Inside the Caribbean's most exclusive resort, with no room keys and a margarita hotline

Jumby Bay Island
He was tall and thin with braided hair and a tattooed chest, and he pulled me to the boat when he introduced himself. “My name is Sean,” he said, adding “Sean like Sean Connery” when he started the engine. Later, when he anchored and prepared to return to the turquoise waters for our snorkeling excursion, he kept singing, "I am the man" - and indeed it was. Not only did the boat not rock away (always my biggest fear when I'm in the sea), but its confidence in showing me the best of the Caribbean's underwater world was justified.
We swam among schools of yellowtail snappers, hunted pretty blue cones, and saw bluehead wrasse in their banded skins of blue and black, aquamarine and sea green. We saw hawksbill turtles gasping for air, a spotted eagle ray gliding by, and plump starfish scattered across the ocean floor. The colors were not only under the water, but also above it. Iridescent hummingbirds hovered next to pink Mexican creepers, emerald green lizards darted over whitewashed walls, and yellow-breasted banana quits leaned over to share my breakfast. It lifted me up after weeks in gray, restricted England. Every breath of sun-filled air, every look at the white sandy beach and the turquoise ocean made my mind soar.
Jumby Bay Island
And how easy it was to get to Jumby Bay Island - and hopefully again when the restrictions are relaxed. The only hurdle was having to do two PCR tests before departure and on arrival. The airport, new since my last visit, had disinfectant dispensers at every turn, and staff in PPE directed arrivals on the way to ensure social distancing. It was quick, quiet, and efficient, and it took the waiting car less than five minutes to get me from the airport on the north coast of Antigua to the tiny private ferry terminal that serves Jumby Bay Island. Fifteen minutes later I was walking through a tropical paradise into my bedroom.
And the ease went on. Most noticeably, there are no keys. The idea of ​​not fumbling for them every time I walked in was a novelty. There's a safe if you want to secure valuables, and you can lock yourself in at night - but all of the warm, airy atmosphere that wafts through the 300-acre island is reflected in this laid-back policy of being keyless.
Jumby Bay Island
There is a noticeable generosity here with the all-inclusive prices (a first for the super-luxurious Oetker collection) that offer a wealth of possible joys from unlimited water sports to Taittinger champagne on tap or its latest innovation, a dial a-Margarita hotline. Call 4414 from your room and there's a mobile bar coming soon courtesy of Casamigos, the tequila company owned by George Clooney, Rande Gerber, and Mike Meldman, which has just opened a thatched-roof cabin on the water with a couple of turquoise surfboards. There is a short but punchy selection of margaritas (I can recommend the spicy version with cucumber and jalapeño) that take just as long before the sun goes down.
Jumby Bay Island
When the sun comes up, the whole island is your playground. Kids can ride from the kids' club to the island farm (to see the red-footed turtles) and then to the sparkling blue waters for wakeboarding, surfing or water skiing in the safe, car-free environment.
Meanwhile, adults can soak in the spa with Tata Harper to rejuvenate, picnic on Pasture Bay Beach (where turtles nest between June and November), hone their tennis skills, or pick up a new hobby at the recently launched Jumby Bay Sailing Academy . And with just 28 suites and 52 private villas, the island never feels crowded.
Jumby Bay Island
The first European to own Jumby Bay Island was King Charles I of England. In 1627 the king presented the island to the Earl of Carlisle as a "personal favor". However, since the earl had no heirs, the land eventually reverted to the crown. During the English Civil War from 1642 to 1651 those who were loyal to the king were deported to Antigua for punishment by Oliver Cromwell. After the restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660, King Charles II gave the island to the royalists who had stood on the throne.
By 1700 the island had been sold to the honorable Bertie Entwisle Jarvis, whose family kept it for the next 215 years. He introduced a breed of short-haired black and white sheep whose offspring still roam the island today (and appear in the hotel logo), but he made a living smuggling sugar. Due to poor soil and low rainfall, Jarvis' own sugar mill was little used, but the cheap French sugar he had smuggled in was passed off as of Antiguan origin and exported to Great Britain. During this period, and until the island's emancipation in 1834, slaves lived on the island (Bertie's great-grandson Thomas rented them small pieces of land in 1835 to grow vegetables for sale in the mainland market), and legend has it that the name Jumby came from her name for the spirits of the dead - jumbies - who are said to lurk in the cemetery at night.
Jumby Bay Island
Since 1998, the island has been owned by the Jumby Bay Island Company, a group of villa owners whose goal is to ensure the island is the best in the world to visit. In 2017 they decided to replace Rosewood Hotels & Resorts with the Oetker Collection as the management company.
The resort has reduced the number of rooms and redecorated them in peaceful blue beneath white-blasted cathedral ceilings. All have views of the Caribbean Sea, huge outdoor tubs and patios. The Estate Suites have private pools, but there are three pools around the property for those without, the most beautiful of which is on the beach. The villas for rent, mostly with ocean views, are sensational, with staff to clean and cook if required.
Jumby Bay Island
No one should skip dinner at The Estate House, the beautiful 1830s plantation house adorned with locally curated artwork. Try the lobster ravioli and Antiguan lamb for an epicurean local feel - and then of course there's the rum. Barman Jimmy can offer you a tasting, from 23 year old Ron Zacapa to the English molasses-based port made in Antiguan. Finish with a cocktail like Veranda Cooler, with passion fruit and lime juice added to the rum.
"We limed?" Jimmy said as he shook the blender. "What does that mean?" I asked. "To have fun or to relax," Jimmy replied. I've always loved limes and their liveliness. When I see them now they will be dancing with lazy Caribbean contentment on my head.
Abercrombie & Kent (01242 547760; abercrombiekent.co.uk) offers seven nights on Jumby Bay Island from £ 8,500 per person all inclusive with flights and transfers. The price is based on a departure in May and the sharing of two people. It includes a £ 50 per person contribution for a Covid test and the vacation is covered by A & K's flexible booking policy.
See our guide to the best hotels in the Caribbean.
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