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Destination Jumby Bay, Antigua, West Indies
the Summer Joys of Jumby Bay
By
Jennifer Frommer & Jeff Schock

For several hundred years, Jumby Bay Island was known as Long Island, because of an illusion created by its elongated appearance in combination with an uninhabited island nearby when witnessed from the Antiguan mainland.  It stands virtually alone and is actually somewhat oval shaped but there is no denying the scale of its copious delights. Two decades ago it was renamed Jumby Bay Island, in homage to the ever-present and playful local apparitions know as Jumbie or “friendly ghosts” described in local Arawak folklore.

 

Once a sugar plantation, flint mine and later a sheep ranch rented to emancipated slaves, the island found its true calling when it was first developed as an exclusive resort and residence community in 1983. Today this private enclave attracts visitors from all over the world mostly from the Northeastern US, Europe and South America.  It’s a member of Elegant Resorts International, and is owned by the Half Moon Golf, Tennis and Beach Club.  Jumby Bay is a constituent of the British Leewards, located just 2 miles off the northeast coast of Antigua, West Indies, in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea.  View from the watchtower at Pond Bay Villas - click to enlarge
View from the watchtower at Pond Bay Villas

With a modern international airport near by, it’s no wonder that Antigua’s easy accessibility factors into many holiday decisions to travel there.

 

The resort occupies 85 of the island’s 300 acres, and is home to endangered species of turtles, lizards, rare birds, sheep descended from its first settlers, and a few well endowed two legged hedonistic transplants.

 

Several Mediterranean-styled pavilions, replete with tile roofs, watchtowers, wild orchids and lush tropical foliage are spread throughout the property. Each suite has a water view and is built along the bayside, off from the beach to promote privacy with access to the cool breezes. The villas are connected by bike paths that crisscross the island and make getting around a snap whether your mode of transportation is dirt bike, hoofing it or via “Jumby Limo.”  

 

Some visitors fall under its spell and come back year after year.   Some join the ranks of kindred spirits who’ve bought property and become full time residents on permanent vacation. Robin Leach, host of the ever-popular television show ”Life Styles of the Rich and Famous,” became one of the enchanted transplants creating a magnificent Italian palazzo with swimming pool, tennis court, and four separate guesthouses that truly rivals the caviar taste of his celebrity subjects.  The novelist, Ken Follet, also owns a home here and is rumored to play a mean game of croquet when he’s not hammering out best sellers on his computer. 

 

The Great House - click to enlarge
The Great House

The potential for celebrity hobnobbing, combined with sharply reduced off-season rates makes Jumby Bay a very attractive summer destination. If you depart from the Northeast as we did, you won’t spend an entire day getting there. We booked a reservation, studied up on Antiguan poltergeist, packed the bare essentials and headed down to Jumby Bay last August for an action packed few days of fun in the sun underlined by romance.

 

Getting to Jumby Bay is remarkably easy, including the 2-mile voyage from Antigua’s VC Bird International airport. We caught a 6:00AM flight out of JFK, connected through San Juan, and were cleared through Antigua customs at around 12:45PM.  At the airport, we were met by hotel representatives and quickly whisked away to private ferryboat—five minutes by minivan from the airport. 

 

At the dock, we were welcomed aboard with a choice of rum punch or soda, and offered cool towels to freshen up.  We relaxed under shade of a covered deck, enjoying our drinks and the sweet Caribbean music heard on the radio. 

 

We barely had time to snap a off a few photos, when we arrived at resort’s guest dock, cheerfully greeted by Jumby Bay’s general manager, Rudi Schoenbein.  Rudi, a jovial European with a vast experience in the travel trade, insists on personally meeting all guests upon arrival.  We were the sole passengers at this welcoming party, just two journalists from New York who couldn’t wait to hit beach. 

 

Your first visual impression, off the boat, is an awe-inspiring view of Jumby Bay Beach.  Not wanting to waste another minute, we hopped on board a Jumby Limo—golf cart—and were quickly delivered to our suite at the Pond Bay House. 

Jumby Bay has 39 junior suites and 11 two-and-three bedroom villas. Some of the larger villas have their own plunge pools and golf-carts. All villas have louvered doors and windows and feature four-poster beds in dark mahogany resting on terra cotta tile floors. 

The villas are spacious, and cool when you step inside. A floral theme pervades the bedding and couches. Our luxurious one bedroom suite with living room was located on the first floor at the Pond Bay House. The villa had an adjoining living area with a television, stereo, table, chairs and desk. It also had a small kitchen with a refrigerator, sink and stove. 

Bike paths connect crisscross Jumby Bay Island - click to enlarge
Bike paths connect crisscross Jumby Bay Island

A Villa Interior - click to enlarge

A Villa Interior

The amenities were plentiful with unusually large bottles of designer toiletries: shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, and aloe Vera gel – a very important sun survival ingredient. All villas had both front and back entrances. The back of our villa faced the bay. A large patio ran the length of the villa with entrances from both the living area and bedroom. Air-conditioning is a new convenience at Jumby Bay, and necessary in the summer. You can open the louvered doors and create very acceptable cross venation if you’re not the air-conditioned type.
We unpacked our bags and quickly changed into our swimming suits, and lounged on the beach savoring the mid-day rays, toasting chilled cocktails, feeling so lucky that we had been spared the Labor Day traffic back home.  Here on Jumby Bay we had the whole beach to ourselves, we dared not imagine what the crowds where like erstwhile on Long Island…. New York.

Antigua is known for its beaches, with as many beaches as there are days in a year. Jumby Bay has three very distinctive beaches, and its pristine white sands are considered among the best in the world. 

Jumby Bay Beach - click to enlarge
Jumby Bay Beach

There are oodles of water activities on site, everything from water skiing, wind surfing, sailing, snorkeling, and kayaking and more.  Conversely, one can be left alone to enjoy the fine art of tanning at the water’s edge — a flag wave from imminent service.  At its heart and by design it’s a romantic playground, an ideal spot for weddings and active honeymooners. 

Another view of Jumby Bay Beach - click to enlarge
Another view of Jumby Bay Beach

Whether you’re thinking of tying the knot next week or next year, Jumby Bay can host your nuptials with a Wedding Plan that includes everything from a marriage license to champagne & wedding cake.  Those who are a little further down the road to spousal bliss will be pleased to know that children are now welcome year-round at Jumby Bay.  A change from the time the resort was off limits to children under eight during the winter season.  

A new health-club was just built and is housed in a wooden hut-like structure with exercise machines and free weights. Expect an excellent view of the ocean from the treadmill.  In all honesty, we made it to the gym only once during our stay, preferring to exercise our limited time on the beautiful beaches, lazy hammocks, swift sunfishes or between the pages of a good book.

 

Jumby Bay is an all-inclusive resort and all meals—Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner-- and activities are included in the daily rate.  Price should not be an issue when deciding what to do each day.  Access to water activities is located at the sports shack down by the guest dock, and all equipment and instruction can be acquired there. They even have some varnished conch shells, which will cost you an extra few bucks depending on size. The water sports team is on-deck from early morning until early evening. They are very experienced in a range of disciplines and don’t mind patiently coaching impatient beginners or guiding experts to new levels.  Choices run the gamut from water-skiing to kayaking, and with enough sunfish rigged for a regatta, there’s plenty of equipment to satisfy any craving or competitive urge.

Boating is confined to a designated area within sight of the sports shack for obvious safety reasons, unless accompanied by a captain. We traveled with a folding kayak, which we used once -- at our own risk -- to circumnavigate the entire island for the purposes of this article. In hindsight, we should have left kayak at home, because schlepping the extra 40-pound duffle bag was like taking sand to the beach, and you can explore the whole island by bicycle without any problem.

Kayaking in Jumby Bay - click to enlarge
Kayaking in Jumby Bay

View from the top of Bird Island - click to enlarge
View from the top of Bird Island

We had almost unlimited access to everything including our favorite diversion-- a speedboat and captain.

We loved the day-trips to uninhabited islands, or along Antigua’s coastline. A popular excursion is to Bird Island, which became a national park in 1996. A picnic lunch is provided: conch sandwiches, pickles and rum-punch, and a cooler full of beverages ranging from beer to ice tea. 

It was exhilarating to zigzag around coral reefs and motor through the gentle seas, guided to choice spots on the map, which have all been immaculately maintained and preserved. We spent several afternoons exploring the warm shallow waters, and learned much about indigenous coral formations and the endless varieties of sea life.  If you climb to the top of Bird Island, you’ll understand why it’s called “Bird” island.  Island life is beautifully simple.  

 

Each morning we dressed for the beach and rode our bikes down to the Verandah Terrace for breakfast.  We sipped strong coffee and read an abbreviated fax of the morning paper, with a confidence building crossword puzzle.  There is always a morning special and we enjoyed their “crab omelets” with a very spicy island hot sauce. Whether you’re hungry as a barracuda, or interested in fat-free fare to power your day, the breakfast buffet serves a cornucopia of fresh tropical fruits, pastries, juices and cereals. Tiny yellow finches fluttered in the rafters and were a constant amusement each morning as they aimed for errant crumbs.

 

Lunch is also served on the Verandah Terrace, and is an efficient pit stop between activities – soup, salad, fruit, meat, chili, fish, cheese, rice and beans – you name it. Fresh chicken, meat, and fish are cook on an open grill to your specifications.  Both Breakfast and Lunch are casual affairs designed to get you back to the beach and or to your next tennis or windsurfing lesson without delay. One afternoon during lunch the resort surprised us with a 14-piece steel-drum band called The Westside Symphony which set up in the wooden gazebo by the beach.  They pounded out tropical favorites like “Kingston Town,” as much for each other as this audience of two.  If you like to be on your own and on your way, the kitchen can also pack a box lunch for a picnic on Pasture Beach.

 

The British tradition of “Tea Time” is maintained at Jumby Bay.  It is served every afternoon complete with the appropriate sandwiches and cookies.  Or you can skip the caffeine rush and head straight for the Terrace Bar for cocktails - open throughout the day and well into the evening hours. We always had a great time at the Terrace Bar and met several of the homeowners who use the resort like a club. Genevieve the effervescent barmaid--seen in the broacher with a pallet of "frosties"-- is a jolly Antiguan, who kept the drinks coming and the conversation flowing. “My mother wanted me to be nurse, but I guess a bartender is the next best thing! “ she joked with a wide smile.  She has been a fixture at the resort since 1985 and enjoys her tenure, “This is by far the best place to be on all of Antigua.” She had a special drink for each sunset, concocting her magical potions with fresh coconut, pineapple and assorted rums with the skill of a sorceress. The drinks were blended in a sound proof box at the end of the bar which was a nice touch. She even brought in her own Island Drink Recipe book for further experimentation. We found the entire staff to be an attentive fun loving bunch, and one of the resorts many joys, even with a strict adherence to the resort’s no tipping policy.

 

When the day is done, and the sun goes down, we looked forward to shifting gears anticipating the evening’s festivities.  Dinner is handled like an event, a nice contrast to sun drenched casual days on the beach.  It’s generally served at the Estate House, which sits at the eastern end and highest point of the island. After spending our days in bathing suits and sarongs, it was fun to dress and primp for dinner. When we were dressed and ready, we placed a call to the front desk and within minutes the “Jumby limo” would arrive to drive us along the windy paths to the Estate House.  The vespertine trade winds stirred the fragrance of wild orchids along our path, past palm trees, and a sugar mill – one of two, still in existence on the island. In its day, a windmill would be turning a grinding wheel.

 

Today it serves as a lookout tower, which is a terrific photo opportunity of the entire property. The sugar mill is quite notorious as a popular site for couples where many a man has crouched before his beloved on bended knee and waited anxiously for an answer to his proposal.  According to local rumor, the site has a terrific success rate, , and we highly recommend it. If the muse or a giggling Jumbie does not sway you, then you certainly can’t help but be moved by the romantic setting.

One of the island’s two remaining sugar mills - click to enlarge
One of the island’s two remaining sugar mills

 

General Manager Rudi Schoenbein - click to enlarge
General Manager Rudi Schoenbein

The Estate House is the main and most formal dining facility at the resort, an authentic English manor house dating back some 230 years.   Before diner, we enjoyed a martini straight up with a couple olives in the library/bar on the second floor – a cozy bar with a few books on shelves worth pursuing, attached to an outdoor deck which is a great after dinner perch for cigar smokers—Cubans are available at the bar for purchase. After our preprandial, we’d slowly drift to an openair courtyard where dinner was served by candlelight. The setting is dark, romantic and dream-like. 
The staff offers small pin-lights to help illuminate the menu and wine list.   Carsten Stelzer has been recently appointed as head chef. He was formally executive chief at Ariel Sand’s Beach Club in Bermuda.  Carsten does a fine job, and works hard to make each line item on the menu a savory special.  A live musician would play an electronic piano and fill the night with popular ballads as we sipped the house chardonnay and sampled items like garlic and thyme soup, Caribbean paella, and baby jumbo shrimp.

The days would fly by in a rush of activity like a tattooed steel drum, while the nights would linger in the exhaled exchange airborne of a fine Cuban cigar.

Pasture Beach

For late night nature lovers there is one popular late night activity found in an annual phenomenon called turtle season.  Pasture Bay Beach is the nesting site for the Hawksbill Turtle, one of the most endangered sea turtles in the tropical regions of the world. Since 1987 The University of Georgia and Jumby Bay Island sponsor two biologists during the peak-nesting season. This year the University sent 2 lovely student biologists who earned the sobriquet  “the turtle girls,” for their good looks and dedication. Their job is to patrol the beach between 8PM until 5AM from June 15 to November 15th and assist the Hawksbill Turtle in a tedious nesting process that takes place only at night. It offers the guest at Jumby Bay the chance to see the egg laying process in its natural habitat.

 

At Rudi’s “Managers Party” we finally hooked up with the turtle girls, who only come out at night.  Perri Mason and Heidi Gerstung, described the Hawksbill ritual as something resembling a huge dinosaur coming out of the surf, laboring up the beach to lay 150 peristaltic eggs before returning to the sea hours later.  We signed up immediately! All guests are encouraged participate, and if a turtle is spotted you’re called in the middle of the night to witness mother Nature’s miracle first hand.  The turtles don’t hit the beach every night, and none were spotted during our watch, confirming that it is a rare occurrence, and another reason to return to Jumby Bay Island next season for a second chance.

The lap Pool
The lap Pool

The Caribbean is often overlooked as a summer destination because it’s considered too hot. Pure mythic humbug.   The climate in Antigua is the best in the Caribbean with little rainfall.  Constant sea breezes and trade winds keep the air fresh and cool.  The temperatures average a pleasant 81 degrees in high season and around 89 degrees between May and November, which is just right by our standards. It’s wise to monitor the weather from your homeport, and we suggest that you pay particular caution to September and October when hurricanes do occur. 

Excluding these two months, the Caribbean is a good bet. The biggest change you’ll experience from one season to the next is the off-season rates.   If you enjoy the beach, pool, tennis and water sports, covet endangered wildlife, then perhaps you should reconsider your plans for next Summer with Jumby Bay at the top of your list.  We suggest you rest up, because Jumby Bay Island is open twenty-four hours a day, all year long. Plan ahead!

Villas set back from the beach
Villas set back from the beach

On board the ferry to Jumby Bay
On board the ferry to Jumby Bay

For Information or reservations, call 1-800-237-3237 or at the hotel direct 1-268-462-6000

 

Jumby Bay Resort

jumbyb@candw.ag

www.jumbybayresort.com

P.O. Box 243

St John’s, Antigua

West Indies

 

If you’re interested in purchasing a piece of paradise you can call Don Tate directly at Jumby Bay Island: 268-560-4331 or via email www.jumbybayrealestate.com

 

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Jennifer Frommer & Jeff Schock are a wife and husband team specializing in Caribbean and Mexican travel and cuisine from a multimedia perspective.  Frommer is a Marketing Executive for one of America’s leading teen magazines and former Vice President of Entertainment for Sony Music. Schock is writer and television producer who creates entertainment programming for networks such as MTV, HBO,  and the Disney Channel.

Frommer and Schock are currently at work on an in-depth feature on the influences of music on Cuban culture. 

You can reach the authors at: jbfrommer@hotmail.com

This Article is Copyright 2003 by Jennifer Frommer & Jeff Schock.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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