By Eileen Ogintz
ANTIGUA, West Indies – Thirty-five years ago, we sat on the beach at a small Caribbean resort drinking champagne left from our wedding and talked about the kids we would have.
That resort was Curtain Bluff in Antigua chosen by my husband Andy out of a travel book—he was intrigued because the resort’s founder and owner Howard Hulford, had spied the land on a peninsula on the southern edge of the Island while flying for Texaco. Curtain Bluff was open for 20 years already by the time of our visit and we were smitten by the place. Not only was it small—no air conditioning or TVs–but everyone welcomed us like family.
All of the rooms overlooked the beach and the food was superb. Hulford was especially known for his wine cellar. And the resort was all inclusive so no need to sign every time we wanted a beer.
This week, we were back to celebrate our anniversary—our fifth or sixth return visit–just as the resort has reopened after a $13 million renovation that included an overhaul of the dining spaces, a redefined dining experience. The rooms and suites have also been refurnished with new fabrics and furniture in soothing blues and whites and beiges.
But much hasn’t changed. Chelle Hulford (her husband Howard died in 2009) still greets the guests as old friends (many are) when they arrive, at meals and at a weekly cocktail party at her Bluff House.
“I think that family feel is what has made us come back,” said Megan Broyles, who honeymooned here five years ago and now is back with her husband David, leaving their three-year-old home with the grandparents in Dallas. They’ve been to other resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean, the couple said, as we headed out on one of the resort’s twice daily snorkel trips, but nothing has compared to Curtain Bluff.
Megan Broyles, admittedly a foodie and wine lover, gives a decided thumbs up to the food and the wine list.
I do too—especially the lunches served at the beach side Sea Grape. Today there was Roast Beef carved to order, mashed potatoes, carrot ginger soup grilled tuna and chicken breasts, pasta mad to order and all assortments of salads—couscous, vegetables, seafood, carrot and raison, potato… and an equally impressive assortment of deserts from home baked cookies to cheese cake to mango mousse. Of course you can order a burger and fries or a sandwich.
I had Caribbean lobster for dinner last night on the Tamarind Restaurant Terrace that overlooks the expansive gardens. Breakfast was fun too with a choice of typical egg offerings as well as a buffet showcasing local saltfish, red herring, johnnie cakes and pumpkin fritters.
Antigua escaped major damage by the 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria that devastated Puerto Rico and other islands. “We were blessed this time,” our cab driver told us on the way from the airport, and some guests found their way here when they couldn’t return to their favorite spots.
“Great for families,” declared one New York city dad traveling with his wife, four young children ranging between 1-6 and grandparents. They would have gone to Puerto Rico, he said, but were glad to discover Curtain Bluff through Trip Advisor. His older daughters, he noted, especially love the kids’ club –complimentary of course! And room service is a life saver when the kids are exhausted at the end of the day from jumping from beach to adjacent pool to tubing. “It’s nice when you have young kids and the service is so good because as a parent, you have so much yourself to take care of,” he said.
When we first came to Curtain Bluff—and we returned once for our first real vacation without our kids and again with them for dinner when we were spending a week sailing around the beautiful island—kids were only permitted certain times of the year. There was no pool, no spa.
There are more rooms now, but the resort is still small, and that same feeling continues. Now we are sitting on our balcony as the sun goes down looking out at the sea talking about the grandchildren we hope to have.