I was moved by the “warmth” of the Curtain Bluff resort in Antigua from the moment my wife, Caroline, and I arrived. Of course, we were escaping the damp and dark of New England last December, and Antigua’s tropical climate did not disappoint. But, as I soon learned, Curtain Bluff—founded by Howard Hulford in 1962 and still owned and overseen by his energetic wife Chelle today—is way more than just another beach resort. We were about to become part of a very special family.
It started with our sincere welcome when we surprised the staff on the beach. Unlike most “normal” guests who arrive at the main lobby, we rolled our carry-on bags up the dock after being dropped off by the 58-foot yacht we’d been living on for the past week (see page 76 for the story). Then a smiling, brightly dressed, pixie of woman—Chelle Hulford—bounded out of a door behind reception and invited us up for cocktails in her home at the top of the bluff.
At the party, we learned more about Chelle and the fun she and her larger-than-life husband Howard (who died in 2009) have had welcoming guests to their elegant yet unpretentious vacation retreat for so long.
Then it was time to find out for ourselves. Curtain Bluff has been an all-inclusive resort since it was founded in 1962. And it was obvious from the fresh, delicious, and varied dinner menu, and the impeccable service in the Tamarind Tree dining room that the Curtain Bluff has perfected the art of all-inclusive fine dining. The guest-to-staff ratio appeared to be one-to-one, and as you’d expect, they do way more than just the basics.
Drinks and smoothies are available from bars on the Sugar Mill Terrace and in the Seagrape restaurant right on the beach. Most dinners feature live music and after-dinner dancing. In the afternoons, a very British tea is served with real clotted cream. And don’t even get me started on the mountains of banana pancakes, eggs, bacon, and buttery baked goods served for breakfast. Good thing there are lots of activities to burn off all the calories.
My wife and I are pretty active parents of a five-year-old, who usually comes with us on all our adventures. But he stayed home with Grandma for this one, giving us unheard of time to do…everything!
We started where we left off on the boat: swimming every couple of hours. Curtain Bluff features two beaches: one is exposed to the wind and waves and one is more protected. The calmer beach has sugar-soft sand and is dotted with sturdy umbrellas and comfortable beach loungers. Towels and every beach toy known to man, from swim noodles to stand-up paddleboards to kayaks, are available from the friendly and welcoming beach staff.
Every waterborne sport you can imagine is also available. Snorkeling trips out to Cades Reef are scheduled regularly as well as being are included in the room rate. Dive trips (as long as divers have the proper certification) can also be easily arranged. Same is true for waterskiing and Hobie Cat sailing. In fact, I couldn’t recommend Curtain Bluff’s extensive activities more highly. All the equipment is topnotch and, more importantly, the highly trained staff is there to teach you any sport of interest.
We saw one family squealing with joy as they learned how to get up on waterskis for the first time. The kids of another family loved being pulled behind the boat on an inflatable tube. In fact, Curtain Bluff offers everything from a sandbox and large jungle gym to tennis and sailing lessons for kids. We took note of the “Kids Club,” which is run by an experienced preschool teacher and offers everything from cake and T-shirt decorating to other creative activities for kids 3–12 years old.
Meanwhile, playing tennis on one of the four championship courts right on the beach was even better than I expected, and if we’d stayed longer, we would have had refresher lessons from one of the pros on staff. In fact, the tennis experience overall—the courts (which can be lit at night), the surroundings, the exersise—was so ideal, we made a pact to play more at home.
But the full effect of Curtain Bluff’s magic didn’t really sink in until we returned to our room after tennis. Our split-level Bluff Room featured a large sitting area and porch on the lower level. The bedroom, large marble bathroom, and porch is situated in on the upper level. The plan was to change into our bathing suits quickly and head out for a late afternoon Hobie sail before dinner. Then Caroline rested on a chaise lounge on the lower porch looking out across Carlisle Bay. The wind was blowing just enough to rustle the palm fronds on the beach. Cold drinks from the fridge quenched our after-tennis thirst, and the shade lulled both of us to sleep.
We didn’t understand just how much we needed to slow down and rest until after we awoke refreshed and rejuvenated from our impromptu naps. And that’s when I started to see why countless guests return to Curtain Bluff year after year. It’s a special spot in the sun where everything is taken care of.
But my understanding of Curtain Bluff’s special magic wasn’t truly complete until we we arrived at the spa for the first of our scheduled massages. We sipped tea prior to our treatments in the shade overlooking the ocean. Then my talented massage therapist escorted me into one of the most soothing massage therapy rooms I’ve ever been in. Now don’t get me wrong, all massage rooms are special; but instead of the average aromatherapy and dim lights, my room (all four treatment rooms actually) opened out to the sea. The sound of the breeze and waves, the clean salt air, and a skillful massage were exactly what the doctor ordered.
“Your back is still pretty tight,” said Babs, my therapist. “I now recommend you take a good long soak in the tub.”
I headed to the nearby infinity-edge soaking tub, where Caroline was already relaxing after her treatment. Then the plate of “spa-bites” featuring chocolate-dipped banana bread and assorted fruit arrived.
Once we finally poured ourselves back to the front desk, we scheduled another longer massage for the next day.
In fact, we’re already planning our next trip back to Curtain Bluff. And we’re bringing our little one!