Trip Report - NYE 2016 with photos and video
From TripAdvisor user "Cindy30A": Just finished our tenth trip, but it was our first time to arrive with friends and first time to travel during the “festive season”, so it felt unique in many ways. Daily highlights and observations are included below. (Unfortunately we left our "real" camera at home this trip, so most photos are quick phone snaps and quality suffered. The Nikon will be back next time!)
Up first, day one... December 30
We ended up splitting our stay between Carimar and Turtle's Nest based on last-minute availability over the New Year's holiday. Since it had been a few years since we last stayed at Carimar, I also thought it would be an interesting comparison to be at both during the same trip given the many Carimar vs. Turtle’s Nest threads that are floating in the TripAdvisor (TA) forum archives. I'll do a thorough accommodation compare and contrast at the very end, but for now, arrival and logistics...
Back home, November and December were full of unseasonable temperatures in the Florida panhandle (the week before our departure we were still eclipsing 60-year record highs and hanging out in the 70s), but this unfortunately meant that our normal 6:00am flight to Atlanta to connect to SXM was delayed due to fog in Atlanta. Something I never would have expected in late-December. Our friends were coming from Houston and were also delayed. Once Atlanta cleared for air traffic and they were able to take off, we were still grounded as the fog was now a problem at our home airport. We spent a few hours watching the clock and began to doubt we would make it to Anguilla in one day given Delta only runs one flight a day midweek, and alternative flights on other airlines looked sold out given the winter weather in other parts of the US earlier that week. Thankfully the ATL-SXM flight was delayed just enough for our friends to run through the concourses and make the flight, and our flight was so short once we took off that we ended up at the gate with about thirty minutes to spare; the 9:50am flight was ultimately pushed to 1:01pm. We felt lucky.
I've lost count of how many times we have flown Anguilla Air Services for our connections via SXM since we have flown with them every time except our first trip back in 2010 when we took a ferry one direction, we really like this way of transferring - it is a quick 8-minute flight until wheels down in Anguilla. Other than an unexpected delay last year, we haven't had any hiccups until this trip. This trip we booked a private charter with them on arrival mostly because we had four people and more/heavier luggage and partly because our friends would only be with us for four days so we wanted to expedite our island arrival. It never crossed my mind that we'd have a problem connecting as several on this forum have posted that AAS goes above and beyond to make sure you will arrive even if delayed - while this is true when they have room on flights or it is a less busy time of the year, passengers should know that on occasion you could be left paying for a flight you do not take as the fine print can come into play. I think this is rare, but it did happen to us. Carl was excellent at keeping us updated on their end via email as I contacted him immediately when I found out we were delayed. I'm not sure if they are not able to fly after 5pm or if it was the holiday (my husband is the one who spoke to AAS when we got on the ground in ATL), but we found out that if we arrived by 4:30p they could squeeze us on their regularly scheduled flight, but not our luggage until the next day, and if it was after 5pm (which it was - the flight kept being pushed and ultimately didn't arrive in SXM until 5:30pm), then they wouldn't be able to fly us over at all that same day. This was a surprise, but I d0 understand that because they allocate your original flight time, then there may be times like this when they cannot accommodate. It did sound like we will be able to apply the charter funds as a credit to a flight in the "near future" - so as regular travelers to Anguilla it all works out, but if you are a one-time or infrequent guest, just double check all the fine print and/or have a back-up plan. (I share all that not to be negative - we really like AAS and will continue to fly with them, I just wanted to be detailed so readers can be informed since some previous posts on the forum didn't fully prepare us for such an outcome.)
We then learned that because the late arrival into SXM (and perhaps the holiday?!), the ferry charter companies were quoting passengers $800 (!) to come with a boat for transfer after the Delta flight landed; the total was per boat one-way, not per passenger. I don't know if they were all full or if it was due to the late arrival, but it didn't sound like there were any shared charter options left - you either had to private charter at that rate, or get lucky. And lucky we were... in keeping with our history of unexpected delays turning into improbable and extraordinary "only in Anguilla"-type of arrivals (thinking back to that time we were going to be stuck in SJU for two days due to AAE, and another carrier's pilot overheard my begging of a ticket agent and then motioned us on his delayed flight - even though we were not on the manifest and without paid tickets). Some of that magic followed us here, as a fellow Delta passenger overheard our flight predicament and asked if we were going to Anguilla. Well, yes we are. Wouldn't you know this young woman's parents own a company with boats (the wonderful Sea Pro), and Terrell would be on his way over to pick her up given the exorbitant prices quoted by the other ferries... would we like a ride? The price was discounted from the other companies given they were coming anyway (ended up about the same as when we took the shared ferry charter a few years ago), and so we felt like sweet Sophie and Sea Pro single-handedly saved the day by transferring us to Anguilla in the same day - and with all our luggage too. (I'm assuming we could have possibly made the public ferry's last 7pm boat, but given how limited the options were to connect from the SXM airport, we jumped at the chance to have a guaranteed ride over. There is no "late ferry" option right now - it has been temporarily suspended.) The seas were r-o-u-g-h, but I didn't look at the swells and just knuckle-gripped the seat behind Terrell knowing we had one of the island's best and most-beloved boat captains - and we were almost there!
My dear friend, Meg, was a casualty from the weather on the ride over - intense seasickness set in shortly after she was on the ground, so we ordered take out from Picante that first night instead of our reservation. (She was better by morning.) Picante is/was a great option for gluten-free diners. Theron can set aside gf chips if you tell them about any allergies when you make your reservation, no one in our hometown does this so it was a treat to have chips and salsa again.
Skies were dark by the time we made it - side effect of January travel being the shorter days, but we were thrilled to have made it to paradise! Checked in at Carimar (more later), made a quick stop at the nearby Best Buy grocery for essentials, and then turned in early to start NYE/my husband's birthday the next day...
Arriving is always special and never gets old!
Day One p.s.
Forgot to mention Ronnie Bryan... we've rented vehicles from him from the very beginning, and continue to given his excellent customer service. This trip he already had our rental car waiting for us at the airport, and when my husband contacted him to let him know of our flight delay and that now we'd be coming into the ferry, Ronnie had the car moved to the ferry parking lot for us. Wow! We really appreciated this extra effort after a long day. Also, Ronnie's paperwork now has an automated option. I submitted everything electronically online in his form in less than five minutes a day or two before our departure, easy breezy. (Kinda missed seeing such a great island ambassador during our trip, but this is a really nice and convenient addition to his business. He still operates the old way too... the automated paperwork is just an option, I think it was a few dollars extra for the software or processing fee. We thought we'd do it this trip to save his time making a stop by our accommodations, glad we did since we cost him the extra time moving the car from the airport to the ferry. But one day we'll need to go back to the old fashioned way to get an update on his baby boy!) Our car for the trip - a Corolla I think - seemed nearly brand new and spotless.
Day Two: New Year's Eve
Back story on our meals this trip... In years past we normally had breakfast at the whatever restaurant was part of where we were staying, or if we were staying at self-catering places without breakfast offerings, then we would stop by Geraud's or Le Bon Pain for simple pastries. This trip was unique on the culinary front because so many of my favorite island dishes were not possible - between the last trip and this one my doc broke the unexpected news to only eat gluten-free, so I contacted most restaurants a month or so before departure to find out what options they had available. Unfortunately this meant that some places had to go off our list entirely - for example, nothing at Garvey's Sunshine Shack is gluten-free except the salad, but the salad dressing has gluten. If they ever switch their seasoning blend or whatever is making gluten part of the grilled meat/fish offerings, then it would quickly go back on our list. So we did miss Rendezvous Bay this trip, but I hope to go back to that side of the island next time, even if just one day to check out popular places we haven't seen yet that several TA members love. In my research re: gluten-free options, I heard that Geraud's has some gluten-free items, but honestly being in front of a case of chocolate croissants after six months without bread sounded like self-torture, so we stayed in all but one morning (breakfast at Malliouhana reviewed later). We kept things simple with eggs, bacon, and juice to start the day.
Given the holiday on our first full day, my husband was up earlier and took towels over to Trattoria Tramonto to claim loungers. Good thing he did because when we returned after breakfast they were all taken! (Because of the holiday week, we had reservations in place before arrival for both lunches and dinners - turns out this was a good thing. When I realized I hadn't heard back from one place I had emailed, all they had left was 8:30pm two days in the future... so glad I double checked.)
One of the biggest surprises this trip was that "busy" on the island didn't feel crowded to me. I had set my expectations low and those of our friends, explaining we were introducing them to the island during its busiest season, and what could be the worst time to fully experience the "Anguilla" we love. But aside from full restaurants (and needing reservations for every meal, which our friends found very odd since that is not the case where they live in the Caribbean as expats) and the loungers being spoken for by 9 or 10 most mornings, it didn't feel much different and was still wonderful to me. Well, I guess one other change was that instead of couples dominating the tourist demographic, there were a lot more families with children. Typically we meet more people during our Anguilla trips, even if just in passing... which has resulted in some pretty great memories and even friendships, but this time people seemed to already be in family units or groups so there wasn't as much cross talk to strangers as usually happens on island.
Back to the day at hand... It was my husband's birthday, so we spent the day at our favorite Cheers spot - Trattoria Tramonto on Shoal Bay West.
This is a long-time favorite for us. If someone asked me where I wanted to spend my last day on the planet, it would be here under my favorite palm tree (short video below). There is something so peaceful and fulfilling to me to be under that tree, hearing the breeze pass through the leaves alongside Alan's playlists (which now rotate during the week), and - as I texted a TA friend - feeling almost an embarrassment of riches... With a loved one to my right, two dear friends and a beach just in front, and a restaurant full of good food and my favorite locals nearby behind us... That's close enough to heaven for me. Life is good when I'm at Trattoria. Alan and Chantal are exceptional hosts, and their staff are really special to us - Madga, Kim, Debbie, Rena. It makes for an idyllic day.
All that said, when I walked down to the water that first day, I realized that if this was my first time to step foot on Shoal Bay West, as it was our friends, I would not be impressed. I thought back to previous posters for whom this beach is one they skip, and I get it - it isn't for everyone. It's rocky to the left side, and seaweed or other brown ocean debris can be present at times (this improved significantly toward the end of the week). On other trips it has been as crystal clear and bright blue-green as Anguilla's top beaches, but this time it wasn't in all its glory. For me, I think our admiration comes from the entire sensory experience we have spending the day there. I really enjoy the palm trees and miss that aspect on Meads Bay. Couple that with the warmth and conviviality at Trattoria, and there is just something about it that is magical to us. We repeated three days there over the course of the trip.
For lunch I ordered the grilled Mediterranean Branzino fish of the day, which was well-prepared. I'm not sure my palate allows for gushing about any fish dish, so don't take my lack of praise as a negative, as it was a satisfying lunch. The rest of the table ordered what anyone coming here should - the pastas! They make the best bolognese sauce I know, a recipe straight from Alan's Italian grandmother. Last trip I fondly remember the Carbonara - made even more indulgent (or ruined depending on your take) when I added a side of that bolognese sauce. A strange mixture I know, but the creamy texture of the Carbonara with a little meaty tomato sauce was delicious.
After we had sufficiently spent the day happy, we drove home to get cleaned up and arrived for reservations at the bustling Veya. I have never seen it so busy. Parked cars trailed all the way to the main street that takes drivers to Sandy Ground. First let me preface this next part by saying that Veya has been - and continues to be - one of our island favorites, and we had two meals there later in the trip that were back on track, but in truth our NYE experience was so atypical we couldn't do anything but laugh on the way home. Long story short - we were extremely rushed and service became intrusive toward the end... Several times people tried to clear our plates while we were still eating, and we had to say that we were not finished. We even received our bill before asking for it and before being finished - something that has never happened to us while dining in Anguilla before that night. We were so hurried, it became clear that they needed the table. (An assumption confirmed by the fact that before we were all to the stairs, just a few feet away, the table was being pushed into adjacent tables waiting for a group.) In retrospect I wish our waitress had just approached us and kindly asked us to move to the bar or downstairs for dessert and coffee; to which we would have said sure, I get it, it's New Year's Eve. But when allowed to order what should be the natural last course to a special dinner, then it seemed reasonable to expect to finish the meal normally. We did choose to eat at the bar the rest of the trip when it was just the two of us, as this eliminated the possibility we'd be at a table with a similar experience, and things returned to normal.
Other highlights that night included the cocktails, as usual, and the appetizers; the steak lettuce wraps are simple but always perfect to me. The red pepper amuse bouche and my friend's Mahi Mahi were noteworthy.
Still, bellies were happy and we made our way back to Carimar and then later to the beach for fireworks. To watch the show on Meads Bay and see the explosive reflections light up in the water... Stunning! Knowing we were starting a new year in paradise felt very special, and it is something I would like to do again some day. We were astonished at how long Malliouhana's show went on and the quality; it rivaled big city fireworks back in the States. They had some type of live band or DJ party up near or in the restaurant, we didn't go to check it out as we had better seats right where we were.
And that wrapped 2015. I can't think of a better way to usher in a new year beginning.
(Posts should be less wordy from here - the days started to meld together and didn't have much action other than great food!)
This was our switch day since Turtle's Nest requires a 7-night minimum in the high season, so after our usual breakfast, we packed up and dropped our bags off at the TN office until we could check-in later. In the meantime we spent the day at Jacala. What a lunch! We had skipped Jacala the last few trips (I have no idea why) and we won't make that mistake again. My lunch at Jacala was one of the most satisfying I have had since being gluten-free. I started with the chilled cucumber soup with tomato sorbet - which had always been a must-order for me when visiting during the day, I hope it never departs the menu. Light, simple, and refreshing. And then, even though I don't normally care for calamari, I had read one too many times of the calamari risotto being a favorite dish (from Kate, Linda, and Ellen on TripAdvisor, I think?) so I decided to try it. So glad I did... savory, salty, filling, rich, and the calamari tasted nothing like the bland rubber I have had back in the States. Great dish. Also noteworthy was their fresh iced tea. While many top places on the island are serving bottled Arizona tea (to my Southern husband's bewilderment), Jacques is serving what tastes like real iced tea that has been with brewed with fresh mint. With a side of simple syrup, this was one of my husband's favorite on-island orders for happiness in a glass. Our fellas had burgers, which looked delicious, and a lobster bisque soup. Great meal all around with great service by Eli. Our friends who don't read the forums to have any expectations did get a chuckle from Jacques' reply when asked, "What comes with the burger?" (wondering about fries or other sides) and his reply was simply "Bread". (Later it did come with potato wedges.)
Most likely the New Year holiday, but I have never seen Meads Bay so busy! A lot of commotion that afternoon, which ended up being a large manta ray running up the shoreline minutes after we had just been in the water. The biggest I have ever seen, his width looked to be at least five feet across.
Leisurely afternoon other than the water life excitement. Checked-in at Turtle's Nest, which I forgot to mention now has you sign an indemnification waiver. First time I've done that on the island, wonder if they were sued by the person who fell on the slick tiles during an earlier visit. Settled in and then cleaned up for dinner at Dolce Vita. This was a different kind of night for me as it was the first time I'd be having pasta, since I found out from TA member "Horselady" that DV offers gluten free versions (thanks, HL!). Started with the Caprese salad which was an excellent delivery method for DV's balsamic without the bread. The guys ordered normally from the menu and my friend, Meg, and I shared the lobster pasta special and an order of the bolognese, both made with their gluten-free fettuccine. It wasn't fooling the guys who sampled it alongside their traditional dishes, but as someone who hadn't had pasta since last summer, it was a pleasant option. I think if I hadn't split plates with my friend it might have made a difference, we did so much talking that by the time we switched the other dishes were lukewarm - interesting each of us liked better the one we started with, so that is when I realized the temperature seemed to make a difference as I switched back and understood what she was saying. I'm splitting hairs now because it was a good meal. Lobster was a little tough this time, but they had been serving crowds for two weeks at this point, so that could affect supply. The dishes were best straight away when hot, and as the pasta cooled to lukewarm it was harder to pretend this was a typical night at DV, as their normal pastas are their strength to me. I'm not sure that it will stay on my must-do short list now, but I know for many others that Dolce Vita is a favorite. A lot of that love I read about mentions Abbi admiration, who we don't know, but did see across the room.
Took advantage of the pleasant evening to swing by Cap Juluca, Viceroy, and Malliouhana and show our friends their respective lounges. Was surprised Viceroy removed all the chairs from what had been my favorite "nook" - walking from the Sunset Lounge toward the cliff top balcony that overlooks the Aleta pool, near the restrooms. They have added a bright spotlight and removed all the lounge chairs. Used to be a wonderful dark spot for watching the powerful waves and enjoying a cocktail away from the crowds. Omalie 360 was playing there and sounded top-rate.
Just realized I haven't been talking about the weather. The first half of the trip was better than the latter half. In general it was cooler, windier, and cloudier than any previous trips, including when we went mid-January last year. Most days started out with bright blue skies and the clouds came later. One day towards the end I think we only had about forty-five minutes of direct sun where we were; we thought about going to another beach but kept thinking the clouds would pass over like the other days and it just never happened. There were more scattered showers throughout the trip too. People would run inside restaurants for 15-20 minutes and then it would pass. All that said, it was a beautiful week - we've been spoiled most years so I should probably mention that because it means that cloudier and more rain for us is still a gorgeous vacation. We have never had a rained out day on the island, and usually use daytime showers as an excuse to check out other properties. Meads didn't churn up until the 7th, but even then it was mesmerizing to watch. Ocean water felt cold to all four of us, during the cloudy parts of the day especially, but I'm sure northerners would disagree and say it was refreshing! I didn't miss the intense heat of June and I enjoy how the winds this time of year seem to keep the mosquitos at bay. But I did miss floating in the water more during the summer. Each season has its perks!
This day was a first for us... Back around 2010, we tried Shoal Bay East one day and were deterred by haggling and Ray, at that time it felt super touristy and busy. So other than the far end by Fountain/Zemi, the old Gwen's location, and visiting Hibernia for dinner, we never went back until this trip. I now owe another hat tip to "J&KBoulder" and Emily from Anguilla's TripAdvisor forum, as their posts convinced us to add it to the to-do list, and Kate's posts about her favorite spot past Elodia's were spot on. After spending the morning at TN and having lunch in (simple burgers and chips), we then headed to Elodia's for the rest of the day. Chairs and an umbrella are $10 a set. Beautiful beach and day, and a completely different beach experience from that first time as this end of the beach felt low key. And that point Kate mentioned to the right (when looking at the ocean from Elodia's) was a sublime spot.
We did a bunch of nothing. One note - I had read on the forum that Sproka would be playing with a female singer, unfortunately this was not the case and there was actually no music at all. Note to self (that I forgot to implement later) - call first if live music is important to you before you drive to establishments. And just a tip to keep in mind - even recent links can have info that isn't up to date as performers move around or leave the island. The day was great even without a soundtrack behind it. The guys enjoyed snorkeling in front of Elodia's. Now I better understand the love of Shoal Bay East. Some trip I would like to try Shoal Bay Villas or Zemi for a few days to soak up a little more of the East End beauty without the long drive.
Simple night out at Picante. Pretty much same as the last with the addition of some margaritas at the table. Stopped by Best Buy on the way home and bought playing cards for a relaxing last night in with our friends back at TN.
Another beautiful day in paradise. Spent the post-breakfast morning at Straw Hat and squeezed in lunch on the beach in their loungers before our friends had to catch a flight home. Just after we received the food, as I was rearranging things on my lap, I inadvertently mishandled the plate and my lunch ended up in the sand instead of my belly. (Not to be my last awkward moment on the trip!) When we went to pay the bill, we explained it was missing the second order - I hadn't taken a single bite when my mishap happened, so had to order lunch again - and the bartender said that since it was an accident it was no charge. Wow, really didn't expect that. It was clearly my fault, so I fully expected to pay for two meals that day. I can't help but think only in Anguilla would a restaurant comp a meal that you yourself ruined. Quite gracious.
Our friends took the Seaborne flight from AXA to San Juan and then a JetBlue flight back home. They did have to overnight in San Juan due to the timing of the two flights. Both flights were purchased separately, but it sounded like from another TA thread that some routes can be purchased together as a codeshare. When I asked her about it, she wrote, "We had a good experience. The Seaborne plane was small (not much legroom) and was an 'older' plane, but it was clean. The JetBlue flight was great. I'd recommend both airlines and routes." The Seaborne rates were the lowest I have seen between AXA-SJU, only $89/person that day.
The rest of the afternoon was spent on Meads at TN, it was a beautiful day.
Sunday night we had dinner at Trattoria Tramonto. We usually go for lunch, and it had been a few years since we went for dinner, I think it was back when we stayed at Blue Waters - it was nice that trip to be able to just walk over in the evening. The restaurant is romantically lit in the evenings, and has a different tone than lunch. I ordered the fish special, and then remembered their pasta can be ordered in a smaller appetizer portion, so we split that to start to try their gluten free penne with the bolognese sauce, it trumped the fish! Husband had the lobster ravioli which wasn't quite the same as he remembered. Gorgeous night - nice breeze, waves heard in the night air, and Chantal such a warm host.
More cards that night, but missed our friends. It was our first time to travel with anyone to the island and it was great fun to introduce people to a place we love so much. At first it felt like an empty nest after they left that night!
Started the day off with breakfast at Malliouhana. Oh, Malliouhana, how I want to love you. When first heard about the renovation and restaffing, I thought finally a resort on Anguilla is going to live up to their star rating... I loved Cap's beach, but have never had a good meal there. Viceroy had immaculate interiors, but service issues were uneven, especially when concierge kept giving out incorrect information. So when Malliouhana reopened with a gorgeous facelift, an Aman-experienced GM, and (initially) a Michelin-star chef in the kitchen, I was impressed and intrigued. After breakfast there last year, we planned to stay there the next time we visited the island later in 2016. The lack of easily accessible "beachfront" from the guest rooms was going to be trumped by the food. But now, we will give them more time to iron things out in the kitchen...
After I read on the forum that Chef Bearman was headed elsewhere, I started reading the first truly negative reviews of their food on their main TA listing. (Which could have been, and hopefully was, in the interim after Bearman left and before the new chef was on the scene.) I contacted Malliouhana a few different times to get information about potential menu changes, but was unable to get a response to the request. Just before our departure, with still no reply, I found the press release about the chef change and decided to contact their PR company directly. Immediately I received a response apologizing for the hotel's delay. Unfortunately the PR contact still hasn't heard back from the kitchen, so I assume they aren't getting back to her either. So very strange.
Without any new information to go on, we decided to just repeat breakfast since we had been impressed last year at the freshness and quality. The smoothie back then tasted just as described - like fresh fruit blended together. This time, even with the same fruit in the description, it was so cloyingly sweet I couldn't help but assume it is either made from a mixer or has some type of filler, sweetener, or additives. Didn't even finish it. Last time, I ordered the Anson Mills corn flour waffle, which was billed as being naturally gluten free and memorable with a mint yogurt and blueberry compote topping. This time, the waitress said their waffle was not gluten-free - and given the menu description is the same with Anson Mills mentioned, then either they haven't updated the menu or they are using a different type of Anson Mill flour now mixed in with the corn. Or perhaps the waitress just saw the word "waffle" and assumed it wasn't gluten-free without really knowing. Regardless, it left me ordering eggs and bacon to be safe, which resulted in a $75+ breakfast for two that wasn't significantly better than what we had been enjoying in our accommodations all week. But it was a great morning, as it was a beautiful vantage point for mega-yacht watching.
This experience, coupled with other small things such as the fact that their rattan-ish chairs found outside when enjoying cocktails are known to be exceedingly uncomfortable in reviews and still do not have cushions to fit, gives me pause about making a reservation at this point. (With so many patrons complaining about the seating, and guests pulling cushions that do not fit from other areas to get makeshift comfortable, I am surprised that a year later there has been no solution.) I do think it has a lot of potential though, and will report back if/when I find out any concrete details, I may contact the GM directly before our next trip as we overheard him across the restaurant interacting with guests and he sounded hospitable and conscientious.
Back to the best part - a beautiful day at the beach... We decided to head over to Mango's on Barnes Bay to switch things up.
We had never spent a day there before. We both ordered the chef salad, very fresh with real roast turkey and ham (in lieu of deli meat), and reasonable prices. The beach there was even prettier than I remembered, with more sand than when we have seen it during previous trips. Only reason we didn't stay longer was that their loungers are a bit stretched and saggy for me to get comfortable, but if they ever add loungers like DaVida or Cap I'd go there at least a few times a week. Definitely exceeded my expectations. Going to have to order the fresh snapper next time, as that is typically my go-to at Mango's. Forgot to take a photo there other than the beach, and the rest of the day we spent leisurely back on Meads.
That night we went back to Veya, which was a night and day difference from NYE. We called to switch our seats from a table to the bar. We had wonderful Eli to ask any menu questions, and the added bonus of watching Ambo and Al craft drinks. If you are ever looking for a non-alcoholic beverage, Ambo recommended the Lockrum without rum and it was delicious and refreshing... fresh lime juice, their homemade ginger-infused simple syrup, coconut water, and club soda. Food and service back on point - enjoyable meal of the spinach risotto (perfectly prepared) with lobster and steak lettuce wraps (shrimp cigars for the husband), capped with a scoop of the chocolate sorbet. The sorbet was so decadent and rich that, even though we wanted to, we couldn't finish it. Stopped by Cap Juluca after dinner to hear Omalie 360 and have a nightcap, but he left the island earlier that day - I forgot to call first!
Back to TT for another great day. What a difference a few days makes. Five days ago all loungers were taken after breakfast, and this morning there were only two couples prior to the lunch bustle. The morning was full of blue sky and beauty.
In the afternoon, we watched storms over on SXM that seemed to just miss us, clouds rolling off the other way in the distance. I don't know anyone on the island who can predict the weather as well as Alan... It wasn't uncommon for him to alert us with sun overheard that in about ten minutes a short shower was going to come through - and he was always right. The weather made for some interesting and beautiful lighting with the juxtaposition of such darkness in the distance with sun overhead.
Unfortunately, I left my "real" camera at home this trip to save luggage space, so all our photos are quick iPhone shots, with a few GoPro videos and images thrown in. Missed it! On the phone we did get a quick shot of a waterspout over above CC. A first for us to see that in Anguilla...
Lunch was more of the same. Stayed around for sunset, since it goes down over toward CC this time of year, but the lower clouds kept it from blowing up the sky in color. Still love the peaceful sound of the palms and water was looking clearer toward the north side too.
Dinner was a real highlight at De Cuisine. Not only the best dinner of the trip, but certainly one of the best we've ever had on the island. On arrival we were greeted warmly by Joash at the door and welcomed into the restaurant. He set the tone for the whole evening, and from the first greeting to the goodbye, Joash was the consummate host. When my husband asked if they had any iced tea, Joash offered to personally make him some - doing this on a whim even though it is not a standard offering was a really nice touch. Throughout the evening Joash was there right when you may need something, but never overbearing or rushed. Guests are in great hands.
When it came to ordering, Joash had remembered my allergy from the reservation process and told me exactly what to order. How refreshing! (Made it so much easier than the rest of the trip to not have to be *that* person asking a bunch of questions.) While the first and main courses were strong, it was actually the amuse bouches that stole the show. A plate of small bites to start were some of the freshest I have had on island - everything full of flavor; the pickled vegetables were especially memorable (would love to know what they did to the carrots), along with tomato and eggplant purees. Next came shrimp for us, which was perfectly seasoned and prepared - that is saying a lot from two gulf coasters with wild caught shrimp in plentiful supply back home. There seemed to be some type of Asian flair to the dish, perhaps the shrimp had been poached in light sesame oil, I couldn't place it exactly, but it had great flavor. Next came a pea puree amuse bouche, again fresh and flavorful (two words that pretty much summed up the entire meal). I also should mention last year we didn't go to De Cuisine because I thought it might be too "frou-frou" for my meat and potatoes loving spouse, but all night he was full of compliments for the fare.
For mains, Husband enjoyed the shrimp dumplings and I had an excellent lamb dish with honey glazed eggplant, roasted carrots, onion, garlic, fresh mint, yogurt. Again, cooked perfectly with a light sear on the outside. The next amuse bouche I could have eaten a vat of... it was a simple and skilled rendition of bananas, cream, and chocolate sauce, but something was different. We make homemade whipped cream at home, but Chef Denise is doing something special back there to give it a uniquely aerated and extra light texture. This was no bottled chocolate sauce like other restaurants are serving, and even the sliced bananas popped with flavor. (Why do Anguilla bananas always taste so much better than anything our US grocery stores can import?!) Finished strong with the flourless chocolate cake, and Mr. had the goat cheese cake - which he clearly loved because his plate was empty at the end.
Keep in mind here that there are a small number of tables in the restaurant, so it is a markedly different atmosphere than the lively beachfront places you may be used to visiting. Only potential downside to us was that the chairs are uncomfortable, even with pillows, for the length of the meal (two hours) - I would have thought it was just me, but my husband bemoaned them first... I did see one gentleman in a chair that had more of a recline, so if that is important to you, then you may want to say something when making a reservation, as there were a few chairs that looked different. Regardless of comfort, De Cuisine is still going on our must-do list for the food quality alone.
A recent TA review on their main listing mentioned, "the prices are extraordinarily high" and "we were a bit hungry afterwards"... wow, our experience couldn't be more polar opposite. I had to leave part of my lamb dish on the plate just to ensure I'd be able to finish the rest of the meal, so it leaves me wondering if perhaps the reviewer did not order the prix fixe option and so he/she left hungry by only ordering one or two courses. And price wise, we found De Cuisine to be (by far) the best value of any of the fine dining establishments we have visited on island. Two appetizers, two mains, numerous gift-from-the-chef small bites, and two desserts only totaled $168.70 - and that is with the initial service charge included. Also De Cuisine is the first place we have ever been that offers complimentary bottled water - and Joash said there was no charge for the iced tea either. (At first we thought our bill was wrong because there were no beverages. Nice feature of the restaurant to include these.) We are already looking forward to returning.
A note if you go: ask for the cocktail menu. We didn't think to ask, and when I tried to find a copy of the main menu today to help recap our dishes, I saw a cocktail menu on their facebook page that looks fantastic. True mixology going on with infused liquor and fresh (vs. pre-packed) juices, not all fine dining establishments on the island are operating their bar programs at this level. Joash and Chef Denise are doing great things here!
Took a little longer to recap this day as I have been torn about whether or not to share the morning on here... on one hand I regard volunteer stuff as best to be kept private, on the other hand it was such a unique and special Anguilla experience that it somehow seems prudent to pass along in case a reader might want to partner with the organization. In the end advancing the goals of the foundation seems the best side to error on, so here goes...
Sometime last year a TA forum poster shared about a children's book by Annie Potts, "Kemarley of Anguilla", a book whose proceeds go to benefit children with special needs in Anguilla via The Arijah Children's Foundation. Like a breadcrumb trail, that book led me to one of Arijah's social media channels where we saw a photo of two physical therapists assisting on-site, which led us to Mrs. Renuka Harrigan, Arijah's founder and president. Renuka is an amazing woman! What she has accomplished over the last decade is truly impressive. I had no idea that the island has no formal early intervention services and a limited number of therapists; we contacted Renuka since my husband is an occupational therapist. We learned about the advances on the island that have taken place with the help of the Arijah Foundation, including a collaboration with the government as they established the new D.O.V.E. Centre classroom in 2013. It is designed specifically to address the education and needs of children with special needs, and they now go to same school as other students at an Elementary in the West End.
While of course each child's story is unique, while there I couldn't help but think of a book I read earlier this year after listening to its author, Martin Pistorius, give a moving TED talk. Like two of the children we met in Anguilla, Martin was a healthy child until an unexpected illness event changed his ability to walk, talk, and interact like his peers. Through a lot of love, expert care, and technology, Martin's life now is beyond any doctor's predictions or expectations. Martin's story and his childhood experiences taught me that life and love transcends typical forms of communication, and that was reinforced on the island when I spent this delightful morning in the company of a young girl who showed me such kindness and camaraderie from the first moment I was next to her table until we left the classroom, all without "words" in the traditional sense of the definition. (And I cannot forget to mention the lovely teachers!) Anguilla's children captured our hearts at this centre, just like the adult locals we have met over the years.
One of the reasons I didn't want to share this was it all borders on cliche, but we left that school feeling more buoyed than when we arrived. What joy to see and experience local life on an island we love. We've long admired the local culture of kindness and the island's beauty, but I'm not sure anything prior to this morning made me want to actually live there in quite the same way. Anguilla is truly a special place. (fyi - Arijah's website: http://arijahcf.org - today the site appears down, but it has worked in the past.)
We went back to Jacala for lunch, same order with same great flavor.
When Jacques stopped by our table and I turned to him, I knocked my glass over and water poured out and the glass shattered while still one piece... so embarrassing! Jacques was gracious and kind about my clumsiness, clearing the glass and helped put things at ease. We didn't get there early enough for loungers near the beach, so we just went back to Turtle's Nest for the afternoon. This was a cloudy afternoon with the sun only making a brief appearance, but since there was no rain we didn't drive to another beach, and just enjoyed reading on Meads Bay that day. The waves were really starting to roar compared to the rest of the trip. Mesmerizing to watch.
Dinner back at Veya's bar, where we enjoyed watching Al and Ambo and tried to learn their cocktail skills by osmosis. Since we were still full from lunch, we ordered our normal appetizers and then the fish soup for a lighter meal; broth makes a soup for me and this was seasoned just right with coconut, ginger and red pepper.
Our last full day, it all goes by so fast. We always spend our last day at our Cheers place. Just like our previous day at Trattoria, the morning was full of beauty, and this time the water toward Covecastles was starting to become clearer without as much sea debris.
Sky changed just before lunch as a storm passed through the area.
And then things cleared after the storm.
To cap it off we saw a few rainbows after the storm on the way home and on Meads Bay...
For dinner our last night we met up with a couple we met a few years ago while both guests at Las EsQuinas Bed and Breakfast in Little Harbor. They were purchasing a home on the island back then and our trips thankfully overlapped this time so we were invited over for (delicious) appetizers. What fun to catch up with them and hear about life as villa owners, they have a beautiful home with a gorgeous view of SXM. It's hard not to day dream about following in their footsteps someday as their experience has been so positive. After "happy hour" it was a relaxing night at Picante to wind things down, and then the dreaded packing awaited us.
Up early to squeeze in a morning on Meads Bay. Aside from the occasional walker, I was again the only one on the beach until late morning. Hard to believe it is "high season" when the beach looks so deserted. One of many reasons we love Anguilla. (The beaches back home are never this quiet!)
The roaring waves from the night before had calmed, but left their mark on the beaches, shown below. This trip the entry to the water had been steeper, so perhaps this is Mother Nature's way of smoothing things back out in time.
Because our flight was a little earlier than usual to SXM (later flights sold out), we had to go to the airport just before the lunch hour. Airport food did not sound appealing and I was still thinking about that fresh chef salad from the week prior, so (the day before) I contacted David at Mango's to see if it was possible to pick up a to-go lunch just before their service hours. I didn't have any expectation other than it was worth asking, and he kindly replied, "not a problem" - meaning I ended up with the best lunch in the airport. (And kudos to the staff at Mango's - everything was packaged up perfectly for a "picnic" - forks, their homemade salad dressing, napkins, etc.) It was raining when we stopped by to pick it up on the way to the flight, which somehow makes leaving the island a little easier.
Flights were uneventful, we had almost a four-hour layover so paid the fee this time ($20, I think) to escape the busy terminal and enjoyed the snacks, beverages, and Wifi in the SXM lounge. Only tip from the travel experience is that if you ever get a new passport in the mail after your current one expires, and you have Global Entry, your global entry will not work at the kiosks. Apparently the Global Entry follows the actual passport and not you, so my husband wasn't able to go through. If you stop by one of the interview offices during office hours they will update it for you. After that hiccup, customs was a breeze, and we made it home the same day - no delays.
Still missing Anguilla though. Parting is such sweet sorrow.
I thought I'd do a summary of our experiences at both of these properties since they are so often considered together given their location on Meads and similar price points (both of which have risen since our reservation last month - Turtle's took quite a jump as most prices appear to have risen 10%, Carimar's bump slightly and more palatably in the new year.) TN's price jump is notable, as part of what we have enjoyed historically about the property is its value. Apparently other people have too, as occupancy grows naturally so follows the price point. The current winter rates ($550-$650+ with all taxes/fees) at both Carimar and TN seem harder to swallow than I'd like given the overall quality, and do not leave me with the same feeling I have when we visit in the low season months, but we were able to ring in the New Year in paradise, so that counts for something. We never have buyer's remorse when it comes to Anguilla, but I guess you could say there is a bit more buyer's pause this time of year.
For the sake of comparison, some observations...
Arrival: Turtle’s Nest remembered us as previous guests, and we were greeted by Betania's sweet smile. Carimar asked me if it was our first time – which is fine, but as someone who previously worked in hospitality it felt a little strange as I had it drilled into me to look up the guest history before arrival as a "welcome back" greeting is always preferable to a stock one. The biggest disappointment at Carimar was that during the reservation process we sent an email that someone in our party had mobility issues and asked if we could have a ground floor room; I knew that Carimar did not guarantee any specific room locations, but I figured given it was for a medical condition that might take precedence. On arrival, we were given keys for an upstairs unit in the back of the property. When I asked about any ground floor units, the staff member kindly explained that no one was checking out of a downstairs unit, which I completely understand, but that is the type of information that might have been available at booking since we made the reservation weeks prior to arrival. So instead of being told in the email response about their blanket policy about not guaranteeing room types, if someone had told me the facts that I later learned on-site (that they were sold out through our arrival date and so the only option was the upper floor), then we may have looked elsewhere had I known that there was no chance at all for a ground floor room. Thankfully I have a hardy husband who carried me up the stairs each day, but for those whom stairs are difficult and lack the option of borrowed muscle, there may be times when a downstairs room at Carimar is not a possibility.
I suspect one of Carimar's great strengths is the camaraderie and community feel that is evident between guests who have been vacationing during the same week for decades. For those who are newer, this may make it feel more "clique-ish" at times than at other establishments, but it seems charming for those who have been long-time regulars.
Location: The location of both properties may swing some travelers. Carimar is in a busier section if you like more "action" and is conveniently located near Blanchards Beach Shack if you need/want a snack and Malliouhana is on the other end. Things here seemed a little more lively, but this could also be due to the fact we were at Carimar over NYE. Speaking of, the beachfront seats at Carimar for the Meads Bay fireworks could not have been better. We were front row for Malli's boat/barge full of explosives and Viceroy's were in eye shot to the left. (Cap Juluca could be seen too if you twisted around.) Malliouhana's show was impressive - definitely beat city fireworks back home. More on that later, and I have a few video links to upload later this week with snippets from the celebration. Turtle's Nest feels a little more residential down the beach, as it borders an empty lot to one side and Meads Bay Villas to the other. The proximity of Straw Hat to TN is nice for a beverage now and then if you want to order something that isn't in your kitchen. Both properties are on the same stretch of beautiful Meads Bay beach. During the week we were there, both had a steep drop off to the beach, so you couldn't see the water lapping the shore from your beach chair at either location. (This was different than in previous years - any scientists know if Mother Nature or Viceroy's breakwater is the cause?) Historically Carimar's chairs were denser in layout during previous stays, but TN had more chairs out this time of year as occupancy is up. That said, there were some days I was the only one out at TN all morning.
Windows/doors/air-conditioning: As many already know, Turtle's Nest units have a/c throughout, while Carimar currently only has a/c in the bedrooms with the door closed. While that could tip the hat to TN for many, Carimar has one thing on all the windows and doors that is strangely absent at TN... Screens! This is a big plus to me as I love the trade winds and breezes one can experience while in the Caribbean, not to mention being lulled by the sound of waves if you are in a unit close to the water with the doors and windows open. I assume TN chose not to have screens because they do not want a/c on with the doors and windows open, but if there was an inexpensive way to rig at least the sliding doors so that the a/c goes off when they are open, then to have screens added would be a huge plus. The friends who were with us currently live in the Dominican Republic, so with the exception of my husband, none of us missed the a/c at Carimar. Even though we were not close enough to the water to hear it from our room, the screens made it nice to have the sounds of birds and nature piped into the living areas. No screens is one of TN's few weaknesses, as you cannot have open doors or windows there without mosquitos. I'd much rather have the sound of the sea vs. a/c when I am in the Caribbean, in the winter anyway!
Decor/furnishings: At Carimar the unit we were in may not be used regularly, as it was toward the back and not as warmly furnished as units we passed by in the evenings when lights were on and you could see various interiors while walking to the beach. The furniture looked identical, but the walls and decor seemed to vary. Some definitely had more character and art. In our unit for example there was an empty space in the master bedroom with “6” written on wall – perhaps a placeholder for a wall-hanging. The unit at TN that we stayed it was not quite as "decorated" as some others I have seen in photographs, so it wasn't any warmer or cozier than Carimar, but the interior layout was a little more functional for the four of us. Individual unit owners create their own flair so if decor is important to you then you may want to inquire with management (or Howard!) to help in selecting your room type at TN. The patio at Carimar was more furnished than the patio at TN, it had cushioned lounge chairs and ottomans, whereas TN just had a table and chairs (though we pulled a lounger over).
Kitchens: Carimar's kitchens were redone just before we stayed last time. While they are up-to-date, the layout felt cramped and was not very functional for meal prep. We took turns cooking a full breakfast almost every day, and too many cooks in the kitchen happened easily given the tight "U" shape. I didn't notice this last time because we didn't do any cooking the last time we stayed at Carimar. At TN, the kitchen we had was like a long L with a small bar at the end that closed it into a U, so people could spread out more. TN was a little more stocked for cooking and self-catering, the unit we were in at Carimar had the basics, but was missing some things like juice glasses. Again this may vary given the individual owners.
Apples and Oranges/Distinctive elements: There are several aspects of the two properties that are apples and oranges so impossible to compare directly, but worth noting. For example, Carimar has tennis courts but no pool, and a laundry room across the street. TN has a pool (that I have never seen a single soul in during any of our stays) but no tennis courts, and a washer/dryer combo in each unit (or at least every unit we have stayed in). There are more "grounds" at Carimar given the layout, so landscaping is a bit more lush and colorful, and the architecture is more tropical and relaxed. Turtle's Nest is showing a good bit of exterior wear (especially building one) and the architecture is weak as the buildings are tall condos similar to Anywhere Beach, Florida. An eyesore on the outside, but irrelevant from the inside.
Bedroom: Both bedrooms are similar, though TN was larger and had two sitting chairs. It also had a second television we never used. The two-bedroom units at TN were sold out on our arrival day; the fold-out bed (part of the couch) at TN was not comfortable - inverted the sleepers, but you can MacGyver it with cushions from the couch to make a more level sleeping space. There was also a rollaway bed option, neither of those mattresses were ideal, but we did bring an inflatable camp bed so there were plenty of options during the few nights there were four of us. And the living area is huge - the hallway alone could fit two twin air mattresses lengthwise, so there are alternatives if you are traveling with four in a one-bedroom unit. Strangely the outdoor patio off the main bedroom at TN was full of light fixtures that were not part of a walkway and were not on a timer - and they were bright. That seemed strange; perhaps the owner has not slept in the room personally, or sleeps with an eye mask. The curtains were not black-out lined and barely covered the glass doors when stretched to close - I think they measured for the width of the window and did not multiply for full coverage - same in some of the living room windows. Thankfully Mr had some tools with him for later in the week, so he unscrewed the lightbulbs off the bedroom, that way we could sleep in a room that didn't look quite so luminous.
Bathrooms: This trip, by a mile Turtle's Nest. When we last stayed at Carimar I do not remember having an issue, but the caulk or grout in the shower needed attention this time. I know that discoloration that is most probably mildew is common in accommodations on the side/edge that cleaning staff do not see unless they actually get in the shower, so it could be nit-picky, but I prefer a very clean bathroom when traveling. But more than that, the trump card for me was an open entry shower at TN. Communal shower curtains gross me out, and the ones at Carimar were no exception. Natural light at TN was a bonus with a window above the shower.
Turtle’s Nest's housekeeping is part of why we have stayed there repeatedly. Not only do they do an excellent job, but they are like a secret crew who magically take care of things - we never saw our housekeepers in-person, but everything was always attended to each day. Aside from the extra help the bathroom needed, Carimar housekeeping was on par too.
Beach chairs/umbrellas: We squeezed in some other beaches while at Carimar and chairs were often claimed in the mornings, but historically I preferred Carimar's webbed chairs to the mesh plastic of TN's. And TN uses a chain to connect the metal stick that holds up the umbrella - this causes a chorus of clanging on windy days that could be mitigated by a rope attachment instead of the chains.
Hospitality: Both properties are doing a great job interacting with guests. At Carimar there was a manager's party NYE night and they left a kind note and sparkling wine in each room for your own festivities at midnight. Turtle's Nest has a new (or new-to-us) complimentary rum punch hour each day around 2 to 3pm-ish.
Overall, I wonder if we either came too late in the game to Carimar to fully convert to its loyal following, or perhaps staying in a beach front unit would be a game changer. For me, given the stairs and inability to ensure a ground floor unit, alongside the fact that TN was stronger re: housekeeping and bathroom, it came out on top for me, but someone with different preferences could easily come to the opposite conclusion.
(I sure hope my finicky details in these recaps do not translate that we are not loving every minute on the island, because we love, love, love it. I just like to share some of the minutiae as those are the types of things that really help me make travel decisions, but our trips are overwhelmingly positive.)
Now if either place invested in cushioned beach loungers, that might trump everything. Like someone posted on TripAdvisor earlier this year (sorry I can't remember who?!)... I don't know why more places do not invest in quality loungers. So many of us spend most of our time outside. I'd love to see more cushioned and lie-flat options à la DaVida and Cap Juluca. A gal can dream...
AnguillaTripReports.com note: Links to restaurants and businesses in this trip report are just for convenience for readers to find information; this site is not commercial and it does not use affiliate links. Trip report above submitted with media by "Cindy30A".