Trip Highlights & Observations (May 24-June 7)
This trip we did so many of the same things over and over, so this time I’ll just relay the highlights and observations that stand out, instead of a day-by-day report...
We booked this trip within a month or so of travel, and it happened to be right when people were posting about the strange weather pattern yielding a long string of overcast days, so we decided to extend our stay and book two weeks for the first time to hedge our bets that we’d catch some sun. I normally ignore weather forecasts, but this time the reports of overcast skies were accurate more days than we’ve experienced before, but we still had many days of great weather. I know several of you typically book longer than a week so it is not news to you, but wow, what a difference to stay longer - it was wonderful to not feel the need to try and squeeze everything into our typical timeframe. I even lost track of days at one point. We had two sunsets with colors out of the fourteen nights, skies just too hazy for anything else, and there were a few days when we rarely saw the sun, so the extra days were a bonus. Showers were scattered, and more frequent mid-trip than the beginning (more sun then).
Anguilla Air Services:
We love transferring with AAS, but just an FYI to clarify one of their policies that was new to us… Last trip we booked a charter since we were traveling with two other friends who had lots of luggage, so the charter was close to the price of their regularly scheduled service. Our flight leaving ATL was delayed that trip, so we missed the scheduled charter time and we were told that because of their busy schedule that day (December 30th - high season), they would not be able to accommodate us after 5pm even though the website said they normally fly until 7pm. No problem, we understood it was high season and things happen and it worked out fine since we were able to catch a ride on a fellow Delta passenger’s boat who heard about our flight issue and already had SeaPro coming for her. Fast forward to this trip, when we went to make arrangements and use the credit. (We were told back in December when it happened that we could reuse the prepaid charter funds for another trip in the near future.) We didn’t think to get anything in writing about it back then, so we were surprised when we went to book this time and were told there would be a $100 change fee to use the charter funds from last time for a new booking. Since the change was due to AAS saying they could not fly us later that day and they suggested we find another way to the island, we were caught off guard about the new extra $100 fee. My husband tried to explain what happened, but they must not have had any notes in our record as ultimately we had to find an old email exchange related to the incident when they mentioned not being able to accommodate our delay (when we were in the airport last December 30), and then after receiving the email thread, they offered to come down on the fee to $50. This still was surprising since most forum posts and things I’ve read connected to AAS state that they will do everything possible to accommodate a delay without any notation of possible extra fees. However, we love the simplicity when transferring by flying AAS, so we will continue to be faithful customers.
Too much sun and Limin’ Boutique:
It had been three years since we came this time of the year, and we forgot the sun’s intensity. In the winter we usually stay in the shade until after lunch so we don't have to lather up and be greasy while we eat. But it was a rookie mistake this time of year to delay sunscreen application even when spending most of the time in the shade. Hubby ended up with a lobster-like back on day one. (Veya kindly let us have a stalk off one of their aloe plants which helped considerably compared to the diluted-with-chemical-concoction-stuff in a bottle that we previously bought at the store. Nature knows best, I guess.) The next day we looked at several different gift shops to pick up a long-sleeve sun-guard shirt for him to wear in the water from then on. Beach Happy has the tight fitting kind that benefit body builders or the genetically gifted, my Mr. said that as a mortal it felt like being in a sausage casing, so we continued the search… found exactly what we were looking for at Limin’ Boutique, it was a loose-fitting version with an attractive and unique graphic on blue-colored fabric - and only $5 more than the other one. During the rest of the trip, he was stopped repeatedly on the beach and asked about it from others… I love how the owners of Limin’ source such distinctive pieces that they become conversation starters.
Tradition Sunset Sail:
Do this! I cannot believe it took us this long to go after all the praise it receives online… all of which was true. I kept waiting to get my mobility and stamina better to make a reservation, but seeing as this trip was booked to mark the five-year anniversary since I had my fall and experienced the beginning of medical mystery we are still (mind-boggled) trying to unravel, it seemed like a good idea to stop putting off things that might be possible to do now… so I corresponded with Deb who put my mind at ease on physical limitations in regard to passengers. Tell her your situation and then trust her. Transferring from the dingy to the boat was easy peasy! And anytime the sail was switching directions (as a wanna-be sailor I forgot that appropriate term for that), they told me right where to go and where to hang on… it truly exceeded all my expectations. There are only two small ladder steps up with multiple people holding out hands to assist. So don’t let any physical challenges deter you unless you talk to Deb first. It felt so freeing to get to participate in something that I thought would be out of reach. The boat itself is a beauty, and Deb, Thomas, and Captain Laurie exude hospitality. The experience was exceptional. You are in great hands! Mimosas and rum punch are free flowing, as well as all the typical soft drinks, water, and beer options one would expect. We sailed from Sandy Ground over to a pelican nesting habitat at Little Bay and then anchored there for hors d’oeuvres and “sunset” (multi-colors were not in the cards that day, but it was still beautiful to be on the boat). And Deb is as talented in the kitchen as she is on the sea. Bring an appetite for a bountiful spread of fresh fruit, vegetables, imported charcuterie, homemade deviled eggs, and more. As the night begins, you motor back under the starlit sky. We saw a few stars (it was my mother-in-law’s favorite part of the ride), and then had a little rain shower just as we pulled into Sandy Ground, which added to the adventure that night! Tradition was a real highlight, not just of this trip, but of all our Anguilla vacations. Really cannot recommend it highly enough, seems like a must-do.
Loved all the local culture and pride for this holiday. The roundabouts are now painted in Anguilla colors (complete with coconuts-turned-fish art), and the vibe on the island leading up to it was palpable. We watched the boat race from the back deck of Solaire. We were surprised to see a giant party boat complete with three port-a-potties (!) standing on the deck - people looked shoulder to shoulder on it, which might appeal to more extroverted travelers!
Another must-do for us. Impressed with Chef Marc, Judy, Jerome, and the food quality here. I corresponded with Marc before our trip about a strict eating protocol my doc has me on… and his response and their implementation of adapting dishes for me was truly above and beyond. (I hadn’t been out to eat in over two months until I came to the island, and the joy I experienced at Covecastles and Veya to not cook myself and to be in a restaurant for dinner again was bliss.) For dessert Judy and Jerome even let me order some simple fruit, veering off the menu, and the mango and blueberries were so fresh and tasty that it made me wish their breakfast was still open to the public! We repeated Covecastles several times for dinners and lunches, and Judy even accommodated a special request for a side of grilled vegetables that I could take on the plane. (Well, she also accommodated another request that I don’t want to share here to set a precedent they may not execute during a busier season, but it goes to show how willing they are to make guests happy.) Menu highlight for my husband was the short rib dish, for me it was the beach paella - oh my! The depth of flavor in the broth of that dish was divine. And as weird as this may sound… I’ve decided that if you haven’t had pasta in a long time, then calamari in a tomato-based broth could make even true Italian angels sing. The texture is reminiscent of thick noodles. The Covecastles kitchen proves that quality ingredients prepared well can kick any food cravings, and make you feel full and satisfied no matter what you are eating. The same can be said for…
Chef Carrie at Veya:
I have yet to try something out of my comfort zone here that didn’t win me over. For example, an amuse bouche of tuna tartare on our second night this trip converted me to not only liking raw tuna for the first time - but liking it so much I asked to order it as a dish later in the week. And the wahoo tartare appetizer our last night = *slow clap*… it was even better! Also, her ability to combine flavors and ingredients in just the right amounts made even cilantro taste okay - which seems like a feat of chemistry or science for those of us who normally consider it soap. And just like Marc, Carrie’s cooking helped me stay compliant and not feel deprived in any way. (Well, except maybe for the moment when my husband slathered the inside of his fresh-from-the-oven johnny cake with butter and took his first Veya-bread bite of the trip and audibly groaned with praise as I looked on… anyone in the world who is following gluten-free as a fad and not medical necessity needs to have their pulse checked and go to Veya and eat a bread basket. Do not miss out by choice, people!) My husband’s parents were with us the first week, and my mother-in-law was so diligently scraping every last drop of her cauliflower soup amuse bouche that we all later joked she might have picked it up and licked the bowl, but thankfully first Tameka walked by and offered a second serving. Other highlights enjoyed by the table included the calamari appetizer, the fellas favorite shrimp cigars, and of course the steak lettuce wraps - another example of simplicity done perfectly. I think I could eat those every day and be happy. Later in the week, we sat at the bar where we love watching Al and Ambo do their magic. Also thoroughly enjoyed talking to Jerry and Carrie for awhile and learning more about island life.
We were creatures of habit this trip and repeated our favorite lunch spot, Trattoria Tramonto, many times. Love the staff, music (the oasis mix music days are our favorite, but we like the variety too), beach, experience… it’s the full package to us. (Well, minus the pesky no-see-ums on Shoal Bay West this time, but move your chair up to the water if a problem and they may leave you alone until closer to dusk.) The Mediterranean branzino and grilled vegetables were even better than last trip - and a hit with the whole table - except for my husband who orders the Bolognese. Every. single. time.
We also repeated this lunch favorite several times. Jacques let me order a mixed salad as a starter that isn’t on the menu, but I had seen ordered by someone else last trip. It trumps salads I have ordered at other places where salads are a permanent focus of the menu. Fresh greens including arugula and carrots, peppers, red cabbage, tomatoes, cucumber and a nice vinaigrette. Only advice I have is when something is the daily special - order it! Two times we put off ordering something that later was unavailable. So now I’m craving the crayfish already for next time… (Oh, and we got to meet J&KBoulder while there - to finally meet such lovely TA people on the island after so many years of learning from them is a true pleasure.)
We had lunch at Hibernia before spending half the day at Elodia’s on Shoal Bay East, which was a great pairing. First time to Hibernia for lunch and it was beautiful to see the view in the daytime and browse the gift shop.
Private chef experience:
Normally we don’t like to cook on vacation since we do it so much at home, so this trip as something special we decided to research private chefs after reading Shannon Kircher’s blog (http://www.thewanderlusteffect.com/luxury-escapes-work-private-chef/). Even though we were armed with the helpful information in her blog and asked lots of questions, the experience hiring a private chef in Anguilla was bumpy out of the gate… Our experience contacting chefs mirrored some other posts we read on the TA forum, as we had a very difficult time getting several chefs to call us back and when they did, they were very vague on pricing and no one seemed interested in just meal prep or stocking a kitchen with meals to reheat later. One who is often recommended on this forum talked to my husband at length, and then she just never returned his calls or emails after he asked about more concrete information regarding pricing. In the end, only one of the three we zeroed in on was consistent in staying in touch over the several weeks we tried to make plans, and we liked the joy evident in his passion for cooking, so we chose Chef Joseph Hodge and had a positive experience.
When we finally got to the pricing, we were surprised to learn that the initial base rate was often close to what a meal at some of the top-rated restaurants might cost - before the additional cost of groceries was added in. And we are too casual to want any of the butler services that usually are part of the package, so there was initial sticker shock. Therefore instead of dinner, we settled on appetizers on arrival, which worked out really well for us. And then we had lunch on our family’s check-out day to avoid having to cook or go somewhere since the flight times didn’t allow for lunch first. Before I get to all the great aspects of the experience, if anyone else goes this route, you may want to clarify what is included when the quote says “cost of groceries”. (We should have paid more attention to this part of Shannon’s blog, “Chefs operate in different ways and it’s important to understand what you’re getting into so everything ends as happily as it starts… Once you figure out that price, dig deeper. What exactly does that price include?”) In the U.S. we are friends with three private chefs who when charging for the cost of groceries do not include stock items that they routinely use - they typically bring their own oils, spices, herbs, etc. So when we received the extra cost for groceries at the end of the stay, we were surprised at the amount for the cost for groceries that was added to the final bill. In the end we assumed this is just a difference in business model since it differed from the other business operations we were familiar with regarding chef services. It was our mistake to not dig deeper and clarify in the beginning, it just hadn’t crossed our mind that we would shoulder the full cost for a new bottle of every single pantry ingredient, including salt. We are too practical to want to take on such grocery bills in the future for one-time meals, so takeaway tip is just to clarify when booking a chef exactly what is or is not included in the grocery costs, and be clear that you want the smallest sizes of items that will only be used once so you do not pay for things that will not be used again. Or bring them from home. Or use the chef’s services more frequently during your trip so the full-size ingredients will be used up during your stay. There are plenty of leftovers - so if your meal is early on in your stay, then it will be a better value as you can use up the extra groceries over time.
The good news is that aside from the billing confusion, the meals were excellent, as was the Chef, Joseph is kind and talented. On arrival, he created seafood small plates to share and a giant spread of fresh vegetables and fruit that we enjoyed snacking on for days. On our family's departure day from the villa, he made one of the best lunches of our trip! We enjoyed broccoli and coconut soup garnished with nutmeg, steak filets with vegetable rolls - flavorful with ginger and beef au jus, and fresh berries topped with maple-syrup-caramelized bananas and mint. It was such a satisfying and delicious meal - full of flavor even though it was healthy!
We cooked in more than usual this trip, simple meals made up of meats we brought from home (checked a cooler of frozen steaks, bacon, and whole chickens) and then supplemented with island produce - fresh salads and cooked vegetables. Must thank Kate for all the vegetable stand tips… we were able to find local kale, salad greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, mint, ginger, and fruits. Regarding grocery stores, as recommended by others on this forum, Proctors was best for organic and local produce outside of the farm stands. New to us was Fruity Web (proprietor so nice!) and buying greens from Sensational Flavors (they were out of other items at the time). We never could find Island Greens, which we had read about online. If you are looking for an easy meal to eat in, Thomas Keller’s roast chicken recipe (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/my-favorite-simple-roast-chicken-231348) is a simple go-to for us. We skip the dijon and thyme in the ingredients as it is just as tasty with S&P only - it seems to be more the prep and cooking method that produces such great results; just bring some twine and a meat thermometer in your checked bag.
Arijah Children’s Foundation:
I cannot say enough positive things about Renuka and the work she is doing leading this foundation to benefit island children with special needs. If you haven’t seen their website (http://arijah.org), volunteered, or met her, I encourage you to do so. It’s a special organization with such a meaningful mission. If you have extra room in your luggage, you may want to participate in the foundation's A Voice of My Own project: "...in which we invite you to help us give a child who cannot speak a voice of their own. Donate a used or new iPad and we will teach a child who cannot speak to use the iPad to be their voice. We will also train the child’s family and teachers so the child will have a network of support wherever they go.” (And if you are a speech, physical, or occupational therapist - or know one - please PM me; there is a shortage of therapists on the island so I’ll keep you in the loop on some brainstorming with Renuka for the future.)
We’ve historically not been awake long enough for much night life on the island, but this time we noticed Omalie360 when we stopped by the Sunset Lounge one night and loved watching their performance. It was so entertaining that we moved some plans around to enjoy their music on various nights throughout the trip. They have a distinct vibe and playlist depending on which venue you see them perform, so it is worth catching them on different occasions. Of the three versions we attended, we enjoyed the night at Viceroy the best… (Friday if memory serves.) It is a fun atmosphere with people dancing and the songs are a mix of covers and originals. On Monday nights, he plays at Spice (Cap Juluca) during the Manager’s Cocktail Reception. The crowd at Spice was great people watching! (Such as a family with two teenage daughters who never stop snapping selfies with their phones the entire twenty to thirty minutes we were sitting nearby.) On Sunday, we stopped by Ocean Echo for drinks during the last hour of their set where they played reggae with a full band. Hope they release a CD soon, such a great sound and talent.
Clips from the trip:
At home there is some kind of phenomenon where people are replacing their perfectly useful old coolers with a new one that purports to keep ice colder longer alongside a gigantic price tag, so instead of calling them by their brand name (Yeti coolers) we dub them Yuppie coolers since most of the tourists with them are not fishermen with a need for 24/7 ice for up to a week, but rather seem to be following an expensive trend. So when some friends bought us Yeti tumbler cups for Christmas, we somewhat reluctantly packed them for this Anguilla trip - not wanting to be the stereotypes we previously poked fun at back home. Well, we ate some crow as we are cup converts now - they performed impressively when used on the beach all-day. Even in hot June temperatures, my ice stayed solid in the cup all afternoon. No watered down drinks or cocktails! Definitely recommend if you are a slow sipper. Pour a Ti Punch from Straw Hat in there and you can sip all afternoon without it ever being diluted. These cups definitely outperform our old tervis tumblers and were easy to stuff with clean clothes so they didn’t take up too much space in luggage.
Accommodation notes and Blue Waters:
In planning this trip we knew we’d need to do a split stay since we’d have family with us the first week, and it would be just the two of us later on. For the first week, we needed a two-bedroom, and considered the usual candidates before zeroing in on Frangipani (no availability when we looked at their convenient new online calendar) and Solaire. We booked Solaire since the opening special was such a great rate (this summer’s stay 7/pay 5 = $257/couple per night after the tax/service charge is added in for the two-bedroom option). Wrote about our experience in a separate post with photos (https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g147238-i388-k9640067-May_2016_Recap_Solaire_Villa_Experience_and_Photos-Anguilla.html).
For the second half of the trip, we wanted to revisit some places that we first visited several years ago and enjoyed, so we spent three nights at Blue Waters and then the last four at Cap Juluca. At Blue Waters it was just as we remembered it - a good value on a great beach. It hadn’t changed. It is basic and self-sufficient, so it may not be the right fit for everyone, but we enjoy the simplicity, location, and privacy. (Keep in mind that particular room requests are considered, but not guaranteed like some places on island.)
It was a restful and quiet few days at Blue Waters… we like the short walk to Trattoria Tramonto for lunch, the nearly deserted beach (especially this time of year!), and I enjoy the companionship of Bootsie, the resident dog, in the early morning hours while I am eating breakfast on the beach. She just came right up to my lounger, laid down and let me show some love as if it was my own dog to pet. The beach was just beautiful, complete with the soothing rhythm of rustling palm tree leaves. And one of the things I love best about Blue Waters is the sound of the waves so close to your room. Very peaceful to be in the living space in the evening and hear the ocean.
On check-in we saw many ants on one side of the bed (box springs and nightstand), of course by the time we called and turned on all the lights and such, they were much more sparse when Carolyn came by to look. Carolyn was nice about it and since we couldn't do the stairs required to move to the only other room ready, she gave us some bug spray and suggested we take a soapy washcloth and wipe down the wall and nightstand later. The good news is the exterminator was already coming the next day as regularly scheduled, and she assured us this isn't normal, which we remembered because we didn't have any before when we stayed here. She's a dear so that made it easier to go with the flow... I figured worst case scenario I could sleep on the couch, there were no ants out there and the built-in sofa at Blue Waters is more like a day bed than traditional sofa so it would have been easy. It was not an ongoing problem and we decided to stay in that room. Between previous rains and the timing, we probably just caught the room when they were passing through as we didn’t see ants in the bedrooms in other locations this trip. Also should mention how much I loved the mattress here, it beats our mattress back home; my husband would disagree as he likes a soft feel, but if you trend toward liking firm mattresses, then room #3 could be in your future. Slept so great.
(We’ve stayed at Turtle’s Nest the last few years, and since TN and BW are sometimes mentioned in the same threads requesting input, a few compare/contrasts notes from this trip… Turtle’s Nest has its own strengths and a studio option that is comparable to this price point, but the TN studios do not have the direct beachfront walk-out, or proximity to the ocean sounds - nor do they have screens to be able to listen to the waves while you sleep without letting the mosquitos in. With screens for trade-winds, we tend to not use the a/c unless it is markedly stagnant-hot at night, so this time of year at this price point, BW tends to trump TN a little bit for us. However, if you don’t want screens and like a/c everywhere, spotless housekeeping, and more services/amenities such as snorkel gear, then TN would probably be a better fit in the summer months if being a further distance to the beach there was worth the trade. We like both places equally, but for different reasons. They each have attributes to recommend them, so it is a bit like apples to oranges, but I thought worth a few words of comparison since they are in a similar price range.)
The early afternoon hours on the Shoal Bay West beach are some of my favorite, there is something special about the angle of the sun even when the sun is not setting directly on it (like it did in January). The no-see-ums were new to me in Anguilla, I had to email a TA member a photo and ask what they were. They especially liked Shoal Bay West this trip (can’t blame them - water was beautiful and clear), and seemed to be silently laughing at my attempts to use OFF to deter them… Switched to Mosquito Milk and they continued to be relentless aside from covering myself up entirely. This time I had to put on some pants and borrow my husband’s long sleeve rash guard to stay outside through dusk, so pack accordingly.
With a few nights left, we packed up again and this time moved to the place where we first encountered Anguilla (Cap Juluca), which was in a separate post with more details (http://anguillatripreports.com/updates/2016/06/third-times-a-charm-wonderful-stay-with-many-improvements-at-cap-juluca).
Random Island Notes and Observations:
- There seemed to be more billboards than I remembered around the island… I guess business and development are up so advertising is too. Hope it doesn’t get as widespread or dense as the States as we love the natural look of the island.
- Occupancy seemed low everywhere we went. It wasn’t uncommon to be one of only a few tables at restaurants and the beaches were sparsely populated at times. Things were picking up a bit toward the end of the trip… met many honeymooners then, but we were surprised at how quiet some places felt.
- Even though we aren’t Catholic, we sure enjoy experiencing local life on Sundays at St. Gerard’s in the Valley. Special treat this time was that it was first communion mass for many children; they were so cute in their fancy outfits.
It all goes so fast no matter the trip length, and we already miss it. Anguilla continues to be a captivating place that we love. Until next time, bon voyage on your next getaway!
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