Gary & Norine are frequent contributors to our websites!!
We just returned from spending 14 nights (Feb 21-Mar 06, 2004) in Antigua at Grand Pineapple Beach Resort. This was our second trip to Antigua and on our previous visit; we had stayed at Sandals Antigua. We are “experienced” sun travelers as we have been going to the Caribbean, Mexico and South America for the past 25+ years, sometimes twice per year. We appreciate “good” dining, so when we travel, food and service are our top priorities and to a lesser extent the rooms of the resort as we like to spend our time enjoying the beach and what the resort/island has to offer.
Summary: This was our second time to Antigua and we were very pleased with this visit. If time permits in our very busy vacationing, we would definitely return to Grand Pineapple Beach. I know that I may get some criticism for this comment but Grand Pineapple Beach was much better than Sandals Antigua was for us! We booked this trip in September and we were offered a substantial discount on our stay if we paid in full no later than September 15, 2003. The rate that we paid also included airfare from Winnipeg to Antigua. This resort is miles ahead of the Sandals Antiguan property that we had previously stayed at from a cuisine, service, rooms and beach perspective. From our opinion, the Sandals Antiguan property does not live up to the Sandals standard of properties in Jamaica.
I would estimate that about a third of the people at the resort were British, another third Americans and the rest of us from Canada and other countries. We found the age group to be primarily between about 40-50 with some younger and some older. This fits us perfectly, which helped to add to our satisfaction with the resort. As this resort is NOT adults only, there were a few younger children (school break) and the usual few screaming babies. I will never figure out as to who enjoys the holiday when Mom and Dad take a “new-born” on vacation. It sure isn’t the other vacationers and when I see all the attention that the parents have to give to the child, anyway, I just don’t get it!
Arrival: We arrived in Antigua at about 4:00PM on an Air Canada flight, direct from Toronto with Air Canada Vacations (a four hour flight). As it turned out, I had the only seat on the plane that didn’t recline because it was broken. So much for better service from a “real” airline and the food that they served was just barely edible. We were put in a small van with 2 other couples that were supposed to go to Grand Pineapple Beach Resort. We arrived at the resort at about 5:00PM and the Taxi driver discovered that one of the couples was going to the St. James Club, another 20 minutes away! We were greeted by the staff with rum punch. As there was only us and one other couple arriving at this time, check-in was very civilized. No Problem with anything. Our room was ready and one of the Bellman took our bags up to our room.
As we have said, we look for service and food quality from our vacations so that is where we will concentrate on describing Grand Pineapple Beach Resort.
Staff and Service:
We found the staff at Grand Pineapple Beach to be very friendly and professional and very willing to help out in any way they could. With this resort only having about 180 rooms and the occupancy being about 70-80% when we were there, the service was excellent. I had read lots of reviews before going and there were a few that said that none of the servers would smile or it would take forever to get a drink at the bars or at dinner. We experienced NONE of this! Sure, sometimes the main bar (piano) was a little crowded but the drinks kept flowing in a very acceptable amount of time. Service throughout the resort was consistently good. The best service from a restaurant perspective was at Chef Pietros with the Pineapple Grill coming in a close second. At the Topaz restaurant, a couple of times our meals could have been warmer and they missed a few coffees and the occasional drink order. Drink service was good and you never had to wait longer than a couple of minutes for one of the bartenders to get you a drink. There was no waiter/waitress drink service around the pool or beach but for the amount that we drink during the day, it was no problem to get off our behinds and walk to one of the pool bars.
Beach and Pool: Having been to Antigua before, Sandals Antigua, I did a lot of research into beaches other than Dickenson Bay where Sandals is located. The sand at Grand Pineapple Beach is pure white sand and the water is much clearer than at Dickenson Bay and with only one other hotel on the beach, minimal vendors and the ones that were there, were really friendly and not persistent. The water in Long Bay, where Grand Pineapple Beach is located, had better snorkeling than the trips that you had to pay for and around the coral, the water was only about 3-4 feet in depth which made snorkeling very easy for the novice. The 2 pools at Pineapple were more than adequate. If you are a pool person, you could be a little disappointed, as they are not as large as the Mexican pools or some of the pools in the Dominican. We spent the majority of our time on the beach, but we would always go for a swim in the pool and grab a few drinks every few hours. There were some topless sunbathers on the beach and they seemed to be more concentrated around the area closest to the main pool area. Everyone was respectful of this custom. During our second week, the winds got so strong for a couple of days that we had to sit by the pool or end up eating a lot of sand. During our second week, it was “red” flags on the beach all week. Actually, most of the island was under a “red” flag which actually stopped some of the fishermen from going out to sea
There were more than enough beach chairs to go around but the “saving of the chairs thing” still persists. The choice locations were the chairs under the palapas on the beach or under the umbrellas around the pool.
The food at Pineapple Beach was some of the best we have had at any “all-inclusive” resort in the Caribbean. The resort had a real chef from Jamaica (Peter) who had some control over the menu. Also, they had an Italian chef who looked after Chef Pietros. Reservations were required for both Chef Pietros and the Pineapple Grill. The only problem was that most people did not know when either of these 2 restaurants were open! For Chef Pietros, you could only reserve the morning of the day it was open and the Pineapple Grill could be reserved as many times as you wanted as long as it was open! The only area where there could be some improvement would be in the dessert area. We did have a couple of excellent desserts, but for the most part, they were uneventful. Also, when they do their two (2) buffet nights, it would be good idea to leave one of the a la carte restaurants open for people like us who do not enjoy “Buffet” dinning in the evenings
This is the Italian restaurant of the resort. This restaurant is actually part of the Topaz restaurant and is separated from the Topaz by some standing screen partitions. The menu did not change during our stay but we still ate here three (3) times in the first week to ensure that we tried everything on the menu at least once. All the entrees that we tried were well prepared and presented properly. With the fixed menu, they had a choice of three (3) entrees, veal scaloppini, chicken Marsala and the fish of the day. For appetizers, they had beef carpaccio, minestrone soup, Caesar salad and brushchetta. Also, full and half servings of many different pastas were available. For desserts, they had a decadent chocolate Volcano and Tiramisu which were the best deserts that we had for the vacation, as well as Crème Brule
This is the Tex/Mexican restaurant. We ate here three (3) times as well and all meals were excellent. We had the best shrimp cocktails that we have ever had. The shrimps were huge and even though they only gave you 3 of them, that was more than enough. Also, their chicken wings were good and so was their Caesar salad. For entrees, they had the usual Tex/Mexican stuff like seafood enchiladas, chicken and beef fajitas, grilled rib eye steaks, fish of the day, a seafood pasta and a few more entrees. This restaurant was air-conditioned (the only one).
Topaz: This is the main buffet restaurant for breakfast and lunch. Both the breakfasts and lunches were very good with for breakfast a great selection of breads, pastries, pancakes, French toast, custom make eggs, cereals, etc. For lunch, there were salads, a couple of pizzas, at least 2 different made to order pastas and the usual choice of hot dishes. We ate breakfast here everyday and most lunches. When I say most lunches, there is an area within the Topaz restaurant where you can order lunch from a menu. We probably split our lunches between the buffet and the a la carte service.
During the evening, Topaz is a la carte for five evenings with a BBQ buffet on Mondays and what they called their Gala buffet on Thursdays. Here the menu changed everyday and was very good. We did experience our entrees coming out not as hot as they should a couple of times but overall the choices were excellent with there always being at least one pasta, chicken, other meat and fish of the day choices for entrees with usual choices of soup, salads and appetizers.
This is the BBQ restaurant that is on top of a hill overlooking the resort. Mary, the cook, serves BBQ chicken, ribs and fish with a few salads and ice cold bottled beer! She is open from 12:30PM until 5PM everyday but she gets Fridays and Saturdays off, so don’t miss her. I was amazed that it was never that crowded up there but maybe the climb up the mountain (hill) was a little too much for most people. On most afternoons, we would go up a little later and just grab a couple of ice-cold bottles of beer and enjoy the fantastic views. I think it was easy for us because our room was already more than half way there!
Beverages: The beverage selection was average for the “all-inclusive” resorts that we have been to. They had a few brands of Scotch (Teachers, JW Red, etc), Canadian Club, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Gordon’s gin, Smirnoff and Absolute vodkas, Dubonnet, etc and some liqueurs including Grand Marnier and Drambuie. The beer was Red Stripe and Wadadli on draft in the bars. There was Red Stripe, Heineken and Wadadli available at Mary’s Outhouse in bottles. I was disappointed that they had NO premium Scotch which I have come to expect at most all-inclusive resorts.
The house wines available were the usual red and white colored alcoholic beverages that they called wine. For the first 2 nights, they had a decent Italian Merlot and a white (both from bottles) from the same producer. After the first 2 nights, out came the “Carlo & Rossi” JUG wines! The wines for purchase were decent and we ended up buying at least 5 bottles from Chile, California, Italy and Australia. I am a wine snob, so I have to live with the house wines or get off my wallet and buy something better.
There has been a lot written about the rooms at Grand Pineapple Beach Resort. The smallest and darkest rooms are the “standard” rooms and there are very few of them. They have common balconies and no view. The next category is the “garden” view rooms which are larger and brighter and face the wedding gazebo and main lawn areas. Then there are the “ocean view” rooms, which we had (room 833), that were a few steps/stairs up the hill (quite a few stairs). These rooms are the newest and most modern and in our opinion, offer the best views. Then there are the “ocean front” rooms and “beach front” rooms. The “ocean front” rooms do not open onto the beach area but are the closest to the ocean. The “beach front” rooms face the ocean and are right on the beach. We looked at all categories of rooms other than the “standard rooms” and we thought ours was the best for what we wanted; quiet location, fantastic view and a little exercise every time you went to the room.
Up by the tennis courts is the fitness room which consisted of two treadmills, two stationary bikes (one was broken at the time), a stair climber, several weight machines and some free weights. More than adequate for the average person and the climb up the hill to get to it is half the workout.
There was nightly entertainment in the piano bar from about 9:00PM until 11:00PM. They had a band at least 2 nights, a disc jockey, Antiguan dancers, fire eaters and limbo dancers. For the size of the resort, the entertainment was good. They have a disco in the Pineapple Grill bar but we never stayed up late enough to check it out.
Excursions Taken: We normally don’t do a lot when we are on vacation, so the highlight of our travels when we were in Antigua was our one day trip to Barbuda. The trip costs $120US per person. The trip to the island is on a very large “power” catamaran. The boat‘s name was “Excellence” and they do the Barbuda trip twice weekly, on Fridays and Sundays. The trip over takes about 75 minutes and if you easily get sea sick, this trip may not be for you. On the way over, we saw a female whale and her calf and on the way back, there were many dolphins that were swimming along side of the boat. The island is incredible, seventeen miles of pure white sand and only three hotels on it. Princess Diana stayed at one of the hotels a few years before her death. The sand in the early summer is actually a pink color but at this time of the year, with the strong winds and wave action, most of pink sand is washed back to sea. On the island, in the mangrove swamps, there is a bird sanctuary where “Frigate” birds come year after year to mate and hatch their newborns.
We also did the shopping thing in St. John’s and we had to have a beer at Hemmingway’s Bar. He must have liked his drinks as there are “his” bars all over the Caribbean. We also rented a car and had one of the Pineapple staff (on his day off) drive us around the island. Had a great authentic Antiguan lunch at Turner’s Beach on the other side of the island and toured the rainforest and English Harbour.