Reviewers Rating: Great
My boyfriend and I just returned from a week's stay at St. James. We chose the All-Inclusive Premium Plan. We are in our mid-20s and have only been to a few islands (we don't have many other resorts/islands to compare Antigua/St. James to). But perhaps my comments will add some value anyhow.
The resort is very clean and well kept. I wouldn't say it's a luxury resort, but it is beautifully kept - lush greenery (which is strange since most of the island is/seems brown). As mentioned in previous posts there are 2 beaches at St. James. The waters are not the blue blue waters that you may see in the postcards, but they do just fine. One beach is on the ocean (Coco Beach) where there are lots of fish in the waters, as well as lots of seaweed. Many people (including us) snorkeled right off the beach, but honestly if you are experienced snorkelers you may not be impressed with the fish. For us, it was interesting enough. There is a (free) snorkel boat that takes you out to the reef. However, during our stay (first week in March) the boat was not working so we never got a chance to go out on the boat. I think the boat is up and running now, though. The other beach (Mamora Beach) is in a bay (the beach you see on all of the resort's pictures). The water is very calm there a! nd is like being on a lake. The villas are behind this beach. All watersport activities kayaks, sunfishes, paddleboats, waterski - are done at this beach. This beach is much quieter and you have more privacy. You will probably find chairs/huts in either beach with no problem.
The rooms are clean and maid service does a great job. The maids come again in the evening to turn down the beds. Our room had an ocean view. We were not in the rooms much so this wasn't a priority, but there is a balcony with chairs and table. Oh, also there is a/c in the room and also a ceiling fan, but no iron. I tried using the hair dryer I'd advise to bring your own if you really need one.
Overall, the staff is friendly and very helpful. They are patient and try to answer your questions.
Food You have 3 restaurants to choose from and also the option of Cocobay's. I think because the resort was not a full capacity while we were there, there were only 2 restaurants open for dinner. But all three were available for lunch you don't need reservations for lunch or breakfast of course. You make dinner reservations in the morning they do fill up make sure to reserve before you go for breakfast. You can always do this by phone (maybe when you wake up), but they have the menus at the front desk so you may choose to look at the menus before you decide where you'd like to have dinner. The menus seem to remain the same from day to day, but the Piccolo Mondo (Italian restaurant) does change up the appetizers/entrιes. The food is good overall, but we heard that some people weren't impressed. I think it's pretty good for all-inclusive, which is what we did. It doesn't compare to New York restaurants, but we were still happy with the food and ate plenty. You can eat at!
Cocobay's restaurant for dinner, but you can only reserve after 4pm (to give priority to the Beach Club guests who can only eat there). We never had dinner there, but lunch was exactly the same as at Docksider's. The 3rd restaurant is Rainbow Garden. This place has a buffet for breakfast and lunch (you can also order off a menu too).
We would recommend going all-inclusive at St. James. The resort is secluded and you would definitely need to rent a car if you wanted to have meals outside of the resort. Also, it's just a better value as the prices can add up. It seemed like breakfast is at least $15 and lunch could add up to $15-$20 (hamburger/sandwich is $12 plus drinks). It seemed that Taxis were expensive to go to Half Moon Beach from St. James was $60!
All drinks by the glass are free (in the all-inclusive plan). This means you would pay the cost if you ordered a bottle of wine/champagne/water. But they have wine and I think even champagne by the glass. You can order any and as many dishes off the menus - meaning you could have an appetizer, salad, entrιe, and dessert! Service is attentive at times, but can sometimes be slow. You should expect to have a nice dinner and not be rushed. Like people have said, you are on vacation in the Carribean, sit back and relax and don't be in such a rush.
Evenings There is little to do at night. We would make dinner reservations between 8pm or 9pm because after that, there is little to do. Every night there was something organized like Karoke, a band, or something, but few people seemed to get into it. The casino is VERY VERY small and most people would hang out there for a bit. Perhaps people went outside the resort, but as I said, taxis can be expensive and remember that St. James is on the south coast so getting to St. John's takes at least 30 minutes. One night we went to see hermit crab racing at Cocobays. The people/atmosphere seemed livelier there not sure if there is something there every night though.
The guests were mostly Americans, Canadian and English. Mostly couples. There were young couples in their 20s and 30s. The majority was probably older 50s + up. It was very quiet, few families with kids, though not that many.
Activities All reservations are done at the Guest Services desk in the main lobby anything you may want to do, they can help you out here. On Sunday there was an orientation (we arrived Sat). Complimentary activities include snorkel boat, windsurfing lessons, sightseeing boats, snorkeling lessons, sailing lessons. You can also water-ski for $15US plus 8.5% tax and horseback ride for $25 plus tax for ? hour. There is reef fishing also for $25pp. There are shuttle services (which are essentially van taxis) to St. Johns for $12 per person round trip. To Shirley's Heights on Sunday (and Thurs) at 4:30pm for $8US per person round trip. Oh we also played some tennis they have racquets and balls available if you don't bring your own.
There are abundant tours that you can sign up through Guest Services. For example Wadadli Cats has trips to Green Island, Cades Reef, a Circumnavigation trip, and Sunset cruise. Some are full days, some are a few hours. Some trips are offered only on certain days so it's probably best to decide what you want to do on Sunday so you don't miss a trip. There are open jeep tours, sailing trips on a sailboat, helicopter trips essentially tons to do, but of course these all cost money.
During the day, there are few to no organized activities. Perhaps not enough participation/interest from the guests? They do offer water aerobics at the pool in the mornings. The resort is not like a Sandals, they pretty much leave you alone.
We stayed mostly at the resort (we are lazy butts but this is what we wanted for our vacation). We did go to St. Johns for a few hours one day (if you just want to poke around and have lunch probably 3 hours there is enough. Of course if you are looking at buying rum, watches, etc, you may need more time). We had lunch at Hemingway's right in the center and it was great yummy lobster and conch and great drinks. It was pricey but worth it (this is why all-inclusive is good!). We also went to Shirley's Heights on Sunday. Had a fun time listening to the steel drum band, taking good pictures and watching the sunset. The shuttle is good because it brings you back in time for dinner and 2 hours is enough I think, unless you want to party and socialize.
Friday we went on the Sunset cruise on Wadadli Cats. The crew was very friendly and fun. The catamaran takes you out into the ocean and then to English Harbor to look at luxurious multi-million dollar yachts. You sit back and enjoy the choppy waters (hang on) and the beautiful view of the island. If you are seasick prone, you may not want to go on a trip like that. $40US per person from 4pm to 6:30pm or so. There was music, all you can drink beers, glass of champagne and finger foods. We sat up front and go completely soaked through it was a lot of fun laughing and enjoying the ride.
All in all we highly enjoyed our stay in Antigua and at St. James. We found the people to be very friendly. I think we would return to St. James/Antigua in the future, though because we haven't seen many other islands, we'd first prefer to go somewhere else. I think many of the other couples enjoyed their time as well. If you are looking for a relaxing quiet vacation and are not so high-maintenance, St. James is perfect. That's not to say the resort doesn't provide services/activities. Also, I'm hesitant to recommend St. James on $$ value and speak to whether it's a good value. Other couples paid less than we did, but they booked last minute.
We had a great time and hopefully you will too wherever you choose to go in Antigua!
(Review originally posted on March 13, 2001)