Curtain Bluff: A Rose Among Thorns

Curtain Bluff on Antigua’s southern coast, is located in the parish of Saint Mary, locally known as the “rose among thorns,” given it’s the only parish named for a woman. You could say the same for Curtain Bluff and its position among other all-inclusive resorts.

The all-inclusive model, Resort Manager Rob Sherman told us during our July visit, is less about over-indulgence as it is making things as convenient as possible for guests. And what further makes the resort stand out is the demographics of its guests: Most are families with kids ranging from elementary school to high school or adult couples. Not that younger adults/Millennials don’t visit but we were among the minority when we stayed. 

Before we dive in any further, let’s begin with the arrival. All guests are met-and-greeted at V. C. Bird International Airport, where they are expedited through immigration and customs. Especially considering COVID-19 and increased protocols, the process was a breeze. Guests, then, hop in their private transfer for the roughly 40-minute drive to the hotel. Tip: Just prior to reaching the hotel’s front gates, you come around a corner and the hotel bluff comes into view; ask your driver to pull over and take in the views for a minute (and perhaps take a photo or two). 

Morris Bay Suite
The Morris Bay Suite is outfitted with colonial furniture andblue-marble bathrooms.  (Curtain Bluff)

Upon arrival at the hotel, we were offered a rum punch before being shown to our room, a Junior Suite (which comprise 40 of the 72 rooms on property). Our room, which totaled 861 square feet, had a large bathroom with a soaking tub, walk-in shower and dual vanities. Further in, there’s a king bed as well as a sunken living room space with a couch and desk. Note: In the absence of a television, we liked that both the bed and couch faced the glass doors that lead either to a furnished patio or balcony, offering ocean views. There are 17 Junior Suites on the ground floor, which offer direct beach access, along with 23 Junior Suites that are located on the second and third floors of the guest buildings. 

For couples, the Junior Suites offered plenty of space. For families, we would suggest the One-Bedroom Bluff Suites, which are available to connect to a Bluff Room. These accommodations are split across three levels and have an open living room (as in, just three walls), a garden patio with a hammock, a breakfast nook and dining terrace and an en-suite bedroom. The one-bedroom option is 1,759 square feet, while the combined two-bedroom suite totals 2,756 square feet. Note, however, that children under six are not allowed in either of these room categories. 

Grace Morris Bay Pool Suite Pool Terrace View
At the Grace Bay Suite, the bedroom and the living room open into a veranda with lounge chairs and a private plunge pool. (Curtain Bluff)

The top room accommodations belong to the “Hulford Collection,” which comprises the Cliff Suite, Terrace Suite, and the Grace Bay and Morris Bay Suites; each of these has its own private plunge pool. Good to know: The Grace Bay and Morris Bay Suites can each be linked to a Junior Suite to create a two-bedroom suite; extended groups and families can reserve the entire floor (a total of four bedrooms).

Note: Each year, the resort typically closes at the end of summer and through September when it undergoes a series of updates. The Junior Suites were renovated in 2021, while the Deluxe Rooms were updated in 2019. There are plans to update the gym, to move the yoga pavilion and add an adults-only pool near the spa, but these are likely to be completed next summer. 

Beyond all the guest accommodations is the Bluff House, where owner Chelle Hulford lives. Her late husband, Howard, discovered the land in the late ’50s, planning to turn it into a private residence, and in 1962, he opened a 22-room resort. He and Chelle lived at Curtain Bluff until his death in 2009 but Chelle continues the legacy of hosting weekly cocktail parties at the Bluff House. You’ll hardly go a day without seeing Chelle mingling with guests or eating at the resort’s restaurants. Her living on the property really gives the resort a feel of being at home.

Junior Suite Living Space Curtain Bluff
The Junior Suite has 861 square feet of space. It offers a king bed as well as a sunken living room space with a couch and desk.  (Matt Turner)

In fact, it’s partially this single ownership that’s responsible for the success of the resort. The other component is the longevity of its employees working there. Resort Manager Rob Sherman first joined Curtain Bluff in 1978 in the food and beverage department. In a few short years, he worked his way up to the point where he began running the show, which he has continued to do for the last 36 years. Wendy Eardley, the resident manager/concierge, was among Sherman’s first hires in 1987; she’s been with the resort ever since. 

There are over 200 people employed by Curtain Bluff and Sherman estimates the average length of stay is 30 years. This shows that Hulford and Sherman are operating the resort in a way that makes its employees want to remain there. It also creates a level of consistency for repeat guests: Over the years, the folks at the resort will learn and grow with the guests, enabling a much more personal experience. It’s probably why Curtain Bluff sees 65 percent repeat guests, with many who visited when they were kids now taking their own, as was the case with a few families during our visit. 

There are two restaurants on property, which are usually open for alternating meals. The Sea Grape, most often open for lunch (but will occasionally host barbecue dinners) is located right on the beach and offers a casual atmosphere. Guests can opt for buffet options as well as an à la carte menu. Tamarind is the other restaurant, open for breakfast and dinner most days. Note: For dinner service, a collared shirt with pants (no jeans) and dress shoes are required for men; for ladies, denim shorts are not permitted. 

Curtain Bluff Sea Grape
The Sea Grape Restaurant is located right on the beach andoffers a casual atmosphere.  (Curtain Bluff )

The menu for all meals at both restaurants is a mix of local dishes and international items, from American to Italian and French (Executive Chef Christophe Blatz hails from France). During dinner at Tamarind, Curtain Bluff has local musicians performing in the courtyard adjacent to the outdoor restaurant. After dinner, most guests head to the bar to continue enjoying the performance. 

Tip: The Wine Cellar at Curtain Bluff is one of the most highly regarded in the Caribbean. Tasting can be arranged through the concierge. Cooking classes with Chef Blatz — who has trained under the likes of Alain Ducasse — are also available for guests. (Note: These are not included in the nightly rate.)

Tennis is a big focus of the resort. There are four courts, including two championship courts, on property. Guests are free to use the courts as they wish, or they can sign up for lessons with one of the resort’s three pros (also an additional cost). Beyond the tennis courts, there are basketball, squash and pickleball courts. Two tennis events are on the hotel’s calendar annually: Antigua Tennis Week is held in May and Tennis Challenge is held in November.

Then there are the myriad watersport options included with your stay: Everything from kayaks, stand-up paddle boards and Hobie Cats to snorkel and diving trips. We’ve almost failed to mention one of Curtain Bluff’s greatest attributes: Its location. Developed on a small peninsula, it has two beaches: The ocean-facing “surf” beach with larger waves and the bay side with much calmer water. It’s on the latter side where the watersports are located, as are plenty of loungers with umbrellas and hammock strung up between trees. The Sea Grape restaurant is also located here.

Curtain Bluff
Curtain Bluff is a 40-minute drive from the V. C. Bird International Airport. Upon arrival, guests are offered a rum punch before being shown to their room. Seen here is the hotel’s lobby. (Curtain Bluff)

The spa has five treatment rooms, as well as a hair salon and one for manicures/pedicures. Top Tip: Book a treatment close to sunset to take advantage of the relaxation room’s views. Located on a terrace with a plunge pool, looking over the bay, the sun will set either over the water or the hillside across the bay. The view is worth a trip to the spa alone. That said, we certainly enjoyed our massage, accompanied by the sound of ocean waves through the open sliding glass doors. Good to know: The Spa offers a range of treatments for kids, as well as several couples-focused packages that range from three and a half hours to six hours. The signature treatment is the Caviar & Champagne Massage, which is an updated Swedish massage followed by “bubbly and effervescent champagne poured all over the body for an incredible sensation.” 

Most guests don’t rent a car as the majority, according to Resort Manager Sherman, stay on property during their visit. If you’re looking to explore the island, the hotel can arrange for a private driver. 

One of the most popular sites is Nelson’s Dockyard, a former British naval base that was renovated in the 1950s and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of the former operational buildings now function as an inn, restaurants, shops, a museum and more. The larger English Harbour, where Nelson’s Dockyard is located, has plenty of restaurants and is very busy over the winter season. Either before or after your visit to English Harbour, head up to Shirley Heights, which affords views over the harbor and even to neighboring islands should the weather be clear. You can either hike up to Shirley Heights (about 500 feet above sea level) or drive. Tip: Each Sunday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Shirley Heights Lookout hosts live music, alongside a barbecue; it’s a favorite among both locals and visitors. Additional hiking, should you be so inclined, can be done at Boggy Peak (formerly named Mount Obama after the U.S. president) or at Wallings Nature Reserve, a community-managed nature park. In fact, you can hike from Wallings to English Harbour; it takes about 90 minutes. 

Other active experiences include the Antigua Rain Forest Canopy Tour, a combination of 13 zip lines, three aerial walkways and two suspension bridges through the forest canopy. For an up-close experience with animals, Stingray City is popular. After a five-minute boat ride, guests arrive at a shallow pool (in open water) with a floating platform; here, they can snorkel with (wild) stingrays on the ocean floor below them. On land, guests will have the chance to witness Giant Aldabra Tortoise, which can grow up to 600 pounds.

Spa Terrace
The Spa, with five treatment rooms, is located on a terrace with a plunge pool, and looks over the bay. (Matt Turner)

When it comes to dining off property, we were told that several popular picks are Boom Restaurant and Pool, located at The Admiral’s Inn; Catherines Café and Le Bistro, both French restaurants; Abracadabra, an Italian restaurant; and Maia at South Point. The only place off property that we had the chance to dine at, however, was Sheer Rocks, located a few minutes away at Cocobay Resort. Guests can dine at the bar or any number of tables located on the rocks above the water; there’s also a selection of private plunge pools for rent. Open every day, tapas are served from noon until dinner, when guests can dine à la carte or from the Tasting Menu. We would definitely recommend making reservations and enjoying a night here (be sure to visit for sunset).

Good to know: Antigua is very seasonal. If you’re looking for fewer crowds, summertime is definitely the time to visit — just know that many of the island’s restaurants and potentially some of the excursions will be closed. Curtain Bluff is busiest at Christmas and Easter; for these times it’s best to book a year in advance. Travel advisors may contact Rob Sherman ([email protected]), Wendy Eardley ([email protected]) or Toya Turner ([email protected]), reservations and revenue manager.

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