Antigua (2007)

antigua_flag_smOK, I’m not usually one to take 2 trips in one calendar year, but this one was too good to pass up. I was at the Veranda Resort & Spa this December, enjoying the 50% off all-inclusive beach weather while Boston got it’s first ice storm. (Don’t hate me.)

 

Dec 1 – Dec 8, 2007

At an ungodly hour on Saturday Dec, 1 (around 3 am), we got ourselves as awake as we could and drove down to T.F. Green airport in Rhode Island for a 6 am flight to Newark. Driving down 128 at that hour of the morning was strange, since we’re used to fighting traffic. In somewhat of a haze, we dropped off the car at the Airport Valet, and got whisked along with our bags into the shuttle bus. I suppose we gave off a “schmoopie” vibe because there was one other older couple on the bus, and the woman ended up hitting her husband for what we imagined was not being affectionate enough. Getting boarding passes and going through security only took a few minutes, except for the fact that I was asked to remove a hooded sweatshirt I decided to wear! (Not that my hair would look any worse for it.)

Once we were in the terminal, we found that the Dunkin Donuts wasn’t set to open until 5 a.m. So we joined the entire population of the airport to wait in line for caffiene. As we worked our way to the counter, there were a few obstacles: someone had stepped on and exploded a ketchup packet (which left a lovely smear on the floor); the guy behind us was being a Chatty Cathy about all kinds of things you don’t want to hear about at that hour. For example, when I sneezed and Kevin said “Gesundheit,” he made some kind of comment about switching to different languages.

With coffee, water, and greasy croissants in hand, we proceeded to the gate. Since we were so tired, the only thing we could do effectively was people watch. There was the unsupervised toddler running around, and the couple we called “Harold and Ester” who were wearing clothes that would make the people on “What Not To Wear” look like fashion models, to name a few. Happily, the flight was a little early, and our 2 hour layover in Newark was uneventful, save for the purchase of a chicken panini just in case there was nothing good to eat on the plane.

The flight from Newark to Antigua began with a situation that would stay with us the entire trip. While getting onto the plane, the first thing we encountered was a man in first class exclaiming loudly to his wife: THIS IS THE SHIT! Here, try this!!” What on earth could be that good at 8:30 am? Apparently a vodka nip and an aluminum can of bloody mary mix! (Obviously he had quite the refined palate. 😉 It seemed to take FOREVER for us to get to our seats–so much so that the flight attendants frequently came on the PA and urged passengers to help alleviate the “gridlock” in the aisle so we would not lose our takeoff spot. After about the third “hurry up and sit your butts down” announcement, we taxiied out to the runway in time to be #35 for takeoff! Even though we sat waiting for 30+ minutes, we still arrived on time. Thank goodness for the chicken panini and veggies we cut up ahead of time!

We landed at V.C. Bird airport in Antigua and didn’t have much better luck getting off the plane even though they opened both the front and back doors. Considering we were in paradise, we thought people would be more inspired to get out! After what seemed an eternity, we walked down the stairs into the muggy 80 degree sun! It was awesome, and I was more than happy to remove my hooded sweatshirt. They had fruity drinks at a table right at the entrance to the airport, but we passed it hoping to get through customs before the 400+ people who had just unloaded from a British Airways flight. (Unfortunately, they were all ahead of us.) After at least an hour of more people watching we cleared customs and retrieved our luggage. Our 30 minute ride in the taxi’s Toyota mini van was the customary “let’s take our lives into our hands” journey that I experienced in Greece and other countries when traveling by public transport. It was a fun, white knuckle, bone-jarring, jaw dropping ride across the Antiguan countryside, but I kept my window wide open to prevent getting nauseous.

resort trigger_fishCheckin was uneventful, but as we boarded the golf cart that would take us to our Bayview Suite, another couple joined us. And yup, it was the “this is the shit” guy (drink in hand), and his wife! Our suite was called Trigger Fish, and was in a very good location, close to the restaurants, the pool, and a short walk to the main beach. We explored our room, unpacked, and read the materials left for us. Unfortunately, we hit some snags. Continental apparently went ballistic with a grease gun on my suitcase, which ended up affecting Kevin’s pants (since he was doing the heavy lifting). So we had that to clean up. Then, as we were reading the documentation for our stay, we were informed that we had to dress up (somewhat) for all dinners. WHAT!? I brought a few nice things, but one of Kevin’s only pairs of pants was now covered in grease. Kevin ended up at Guest Services to inquire as to whether we could actually have dinner in our disheveled state! Once at the SeaBreeze restaurant for dinner, however, we saw that our attire was more than acceptable!

We had a nice, romantic dinner for our first night, then decided to walk down to the large beach in the dark. It was closed of course, with all the beach chairs lined up on the closer side…but there were a few left under the trees that we decided to sit on. Hearing the waves crashing up against the beach and looking up at the stars is not something I can do justice explaining here. It was so surreal, the way the sky was painted. It was like being on our own private island in a dream somewhere.

large_beach pool

Sunday morning, we took our time waking up and had the buffet breakfast at the SeaBreeze. Then we headed out to the pool and had our first of many strawberry daquiris. At lunchtime we went to the Beach Bar and Grill to have hot dogs and burgers while looking out over the water. We kept laughing at the cheesy 80s love ballads they were broadcasting to patrons from a boom box. After lunch, with more drinks in hand, we sat on the beach for a bit then decided to take out a paddle boat (regardless of the large warning written on the sticker about drinking alcohol and operating the craft). Lucky for us we were in a relatively protected bay, plus there was little to no chance that our pedal power would be converted into actual movement. Pedaling into the wind was close to riding a stationary bike, but the scenery was much better! Running low on energy and liquid refreshment, we headed back in to recuperate and refill. After lounging about for a while, we headed back to the room to get cleaned up for dinner. Dinner that evening was at Buccaneers restaurant. The shrimp with linguine and flank steak were amazing. After dinner, we enjoyed a desert of neapolitan-type moose and paris brest, the latter of which inspired hysterical comments in honor of our cultured friend from the plane. After dinner we enjoyed the music of Axes Band/Pat Edwards and proceeded to people watch. (We assume Pat Edwards was the singer, who was interestingly dressed in a red sequined top, red pants, big sunglasses and a baret.)

devils_bridge1 devils_bridge2Monday we got up a little earlier for breakfast so we could go on the Devil’s Bridge Walk. The views were spectacular! The one bit of historical “trivia” (as it were) was that apparently people who didn’t work hard enough ended up getting thrown into the water to their death. On the way there and back we encountered a few donkeys, and one of our fellow travelers had a good ol’ time with his joke about how we shouldn’t eat any beef on the island. (It was kind of funny, but only the first time!)

donkiesAfter the walk we ended up back at the pool, then at a buffet lunch at the SeaBreeze. For this day’s non-motorized water sport, we decided to take out the Hobbie Cat. I was a little nervous but Kevin was the expert sailor for sure! (So good that I kept bugging him to partake of the Hobbie Cat race later in the week.) Post-sail we ended up goofing around in the water and laughing to the point of hysterics. (The topic of that conversation is probably inappropriate for this medium, but let’s just say we’d been drinking a lot and were debating about the long walk up to the rest rooms versus staying where we were. 😉

hobbie_catThat night we had dinner at Nicole’s restaurant (the more posh, upscale one), so we dressed up. We ran into Mr. “This is the shit” at the restaurant too! We ended up trying 3 different desserts because we just couldn’t decide. The chocolate moose there was to die for.

Tuesday started off as usual…breakfast at SeaBreeze (at this point we’d discovered the omlet station!) and daquiri’s poolside. What was more amuzing this morning was what Kevin called “Shady Acres” sitting on the stairs and blocking the entrance to the pool. While this group of retirees mused about the different islands and various their resort experiences, we found a corner of the pool and ended up getting busted by a woman from Guest Services for being too cuddly. 🙂 We were sure we were making some people ill but didn’t really care! (Aside: What was interesting about this new resort was that it didn’t really have a vibe or feel yet. There were young couples, retirees, couples with young children, etc. Quite the mix. We think it would be interesting to go back in 5 years or so when things are done and the place has established itself.)

Although Kevin was semi-salmon colored from forgetting to reapply sunblock yesterday after being in the pool, we decided to take out a floating ring from the non-motorized water sports station. This pretty quickly made me nauseous, in part I think because the tartar sauce I had with the really good grilled fish at the Beach Bar and Grill wasn’t agreeing with me. After giving up the ring for laying on the beach again, we joined others at the SeaBreeze for the “international” buffet dinner, then snuck down to the beach after dark to see the stars again. I finally saw a shooting star!!

small_beachWednesday we took the laptop out to the pool to capture the wi-fi, and ended up with caterpillers all over us (ick!!!). There was an abundance of moths on the island and my assumption is that’s where they came from! We sent a beachy photo to some of our friends who were being snowed upon (how lovely of us), then decided to head out to the smaller beach closer to the resort’s reception building. This beach was nearer to the housing that was not yet completed, and therefore the consessions were all pretty basic and non-alcoholic. As a result, there wasn’t a soul in sight! (We had previously heard Mr. “This is the shit” complaining to Guest Services about this fact so assumed he wouldn’t be joining us. 🙂 We worked on a sand castle until we started getting burnt in the sun. (It wasn’t one of our better collaborative works but was fun nontheless.) Kevin then taught me how to play Sudoku and after that we took a walk to see what the Long Bay Beach was all about. (This was about a 5 minute walk from our resort.) After checking that out, we ended up back at the pool until way too late, because we had to rush to get ready for the seafood buffet we were told was on at the SeaBreeze. Unfortunately, we were mislead about this (and the lobster!) and so ended up going back to Buccaneers for the awesome shrimp scampi and fish (hey, we were in the mood for the seafood afterall)!

long_bayThe evening entertainment was interesting. We listened to the Impulse Steel Band at the Pool Bar and then got a good spot on the wall to watch the fire limbo/fire dancing guy, named “Mr. Moo” or “Mr. Mooves” (we couldn’t tell which). This guy was a stick and could contort his body like you wouldn’t believe. As I’m sitting there sipping on water (I wasn’t even buzzed) I got this feeling that I was going to be “picked” for something…a flashback to my youth when I was ALWAYS the one picked out of the audience (I hated it)! After talking myself down and thinking “no, this won’t happen,” I’m the first one picked to start (of all things) dancing with him in front of the crowd! It was a little unnerving (would have been better had I had a drink!) but he wasn’t too bad a leader…at least, until he tried to make me turn and didn’t really lead it. He told me, “turn turn!” and all I could think of is “well, you didn’t lead it!” Hahaha! Of course the whole time Kevin is laughing and taking pictures. After the dancing I get forced under the limbo stick, and then he got other people in the crowd to limbo. I told Kevin he had to go up there (to be fair), and he did…which was hysterical both because he was a little tipsy and because he’s so tall.

mr_moovesThursday we decided to stop being beach bums and join a small tour bus that would take us to St. John for a few hours to shop. We were very excited about this, but it made the morning a little stressful because we had to get our tickets from the Tour Desk at a time when they were bombarded with people and have breakfast too, all before 9 am. It took about 1/2 hour to get to St. John, but the taxi driver we had was talkative and fun. We got stuck in quite a bit of traffic nearest to our destination. The local flavor of Antigua was made apparent to us when our driver pulled up next to another car at a red light and proceeded to have a conversation with the guy in “Broken English.” It was somewhat difficult to understand, but as near as I could tell, they were complaining about the same thing everyone complains about: taxes. I guess things aren’t that different in paradise if you’re there working! 🙂 Once we finally reached the downtown area we were let loose for 2 1/2 hours. Originally I thought, “this isn’t enough time to shop,” but unfortunately the experience wasn’t as good as we expected.

st_john1 st_john2Downtown St. John is an interesting mix of banks, local shops and duty free shops. It seemed as if there was an overabundance of liquor and jewelry stores, but once we noticed the 3 gigantic cruise ships docked in port, it all became very clear. The local entrepreneurs were out in full force, looking for fresh tourist meat. They were incessant with their solicitations: “Need a taxi Mon?”, “Want to take a tour of the island?” and so on. It was impossible to walk 10 feet without being accosted. I guess this was to be expected, but it continued even further out from the dock area. At one point, we were in a shop with two sales people arguing over who would be better able to help us. The exchange went something like this: Sales person #1: “The small sizes have the green tag, the medium sizes have a yellow tag, and the large sizes have a red tag.” Sales person #2 immediately jumps in and says, “Did you tell them that the small sizes … and … a red tag?” Sales person #1 indignantly comes back with, “Yes I told them that the small sizes …and… a red tag!” We were tempted to ask which color tag went with each size, but figured the sarcasm might be lost. 🙂 At one store the proprietor attempted the more friendly approach by “fist bumping” Kevin; we figured this technique must have worked at some point on some hapless tourist. I helped Kevin pick out a painting before it was time to grab a few bottles of local rum and catch the taxi back to the resort. The return trip was interesting too, since the cab driver stopped to pick up his 8 year old son from school and we got to see a little more of the local culture.

We were just in time for the buffet lunch at the SeaBreeze, where we just had to try the curried goat meat! It was interesting but gamey, and I wouldn’t eat it on a regular basis. After lunch we headed out for some time at the main beach, and ended up swimming in the sea until the sky opened up and it downpoured on us! That pretty much put us out of the water in time to make the 4 pm “Tea Time” we hadn’t yet tried. They had marvelous iced and hot tea, and an assortment of little sandwiches. We then headed out to the pool and started flipping through photos from last night’s Mr. Moooves on Kevin’s laptop. A young couple with two well behaved kids came up to us and the woman told me I had danced so well when pulled from the audience that she thought I was a plant. That made me so happy!!! The kids wanted to see our photos so we showed what we had to them. After dinner at the SeaBreeze (yes we spent a lot of time eating there!) we went out to the Pool Bar to watch the Shiva Dance group, listen to the Three Cylinder band, and get completely sloshed on the free drinks.

shiva_danceFriday morning we relished a leisurely breakfast (with mimosas!), then read poolside and swam for a bit. It was our last full day and we wanted to savor every minute of it. After lunch we attempted to go to Long Bay Beach to rent a jet ski–even though it was windy and the water was a little rough. No luck. For some reason they wouldn’t have them again until Sunday, after we’d gone. As a substitute, we decided to take out the 2 person kayak. I suggested that we head in the direction of the small beach and check whether our sand castle was still there, since it’s “always good to have a destination.” (Famous last words.) Paddling out was no problem, but as soon as we turned around, we were met with the wind in our faces and I (being in the front) was met with large splashes of salt water in my face every few waves or so. We did not want to have to be rescued by the water sports people (it was close to closing time for them and we had to have the kayak back) so we paddled with all our might. We tried to stop and rest by grabbing onto a buoy, but every time we tried we got pushed back several feet by the extreme winds! At one point I turned around to Kevin and said “f-ing nature!!” Laughing all the way at our predicament, we pressed on and made it back just in the nick of time.

Then, Kevin got the bright idea to go out to Devil’s Bridge on our own and take some nice photos of the sunset. I agreed, so we changed into long pants and sneakers and headed out. As we were walking, the sky got very overcast and I was thinking we were going to get drenched. He insisted it would pass, so we pressed on. The waves were crashing loudly against the shore, which was an awesome sight, but as soon as the sun started to set, we were able to see it raining off in the distance, over the water. Soon the sun was completely obscured by clouds, and we were getting completely soaked. We headed back, getting completely wet and muddy from the journey.

sunsetAfter we cleaned up, we (sadly) packed for our return trip the next day and went to enjoy an Antiguan buffet for dinner. The Johnny Cakes were absolutely delicious and the roasted piglet on the carving station was also memorable but a tad bit greasy. Friday night found us back at the Pool Bar to watch a magician and the Night Shift Band. The magician was scheduled to go on at 9:30, so we rushed from the room to get there almost exactly on time–only to find the magician was already halfway through his routine. We were initially bummed, but it quickly became apparent that we hadn’t missed much. When he started handing out photocopied sheets of paper with words written on them, it became almost laughable, but not in a really funny way. One of the sheets had “Something” printed on it in a small font…after handing it to an audience member and announcing “Here’s a little something for you” we began cringing. The sheet with “Nothing” printed on it and the “I’ve got nothing for you” was another groaner. The point when he made the two audience members trade and announced proudly that it’s not too often you get “something for nothing” pretty much marked the low point of the show. It sure did make the remaining part of the act seem impressive in comparison! Luckily drinks were flowing from the bar and the remaining entertainment got steadily better as the night went on. We met a retired English couple from Wales and had an interesting conversation with them. Given the exchange rate and the discount provided by the resort, they mentioned that they couldn’t afford not to go on vacation. This helped explain the large number of English people we saw at the resort.

Saturday morning, we got up and finished packing, had breakfast and dropped our luggage off with the bellman. We then proceeded to the pool for the last few daiquiri’s. After several leisurely hours, we got a “courtesy suite”, where we showered and changed into street clothes for the trip home. (We were repeatedly told by Guest Services that we only had 30 minutes in this different room, and we had fun speculatating as to the cause of this stern warning.) Wearing long pants during the day felt weird after a week of shorts and swimsuits. We had our final, somewhat somber lunch at the SeaBreeze. Finishing in the nick of time, we reclaimed our luggage from the bellman and boarded the taxi to the airport with 2 other couples. Arriving at the airport, we proceeded through the open air lines to the check-in counter with the cursory Antiguan luggage inspection. After that we stood in another line to pay the “emigration” tax of $20/person, followed by a third line to get through security into the terminal. We met a couple from New Jersey who had spent time at the Sandals resort on the island and had good things to say about it. After about 30 minutes in this line, we saw several hapless people who had forgotten their emigration stamp and were sent back to the other line. Once inside the terminal we were in a sea of people but managed to find two seats next to each other. With a headphone splitter and an IPod, Kevin and I goofed off by doing some body isolations, then decided to pop into the jewelry store so I could try on all manor of overpriced bling.

After standing in a 3rd line to board the plane back to Newark, we found ourselves at the back of the plane next to the lavatories–on opposite sides of the aisle. Kevin was seated next to an extrememly large couple and pretty much was leaning into the aisle in a vain attempt to prevent touching the passenger next to him. At one point he remarked that he could feel this guy sweating through his pants. Ewe!! With an almost packed flight and the thought of smelling the lavatories and dealing with the constant line, it was not a good situation. After sitting on the ground for a good while, the cabin became even warmer and the smell of jet fuel was close to nauseating. A small ray of hope appeared as Kevin noticed that there were two open seats several rows up and asked the flight attendant if we could move up. The flight attendant told us, “Sure, but wait until we’re airborne.” As we sat patiently, a guy who didn’t want to sit next to his wife moved up into one of the empty seats. Talk about being furious! Once we were airborne, Kevin sweet talked the flight attendant and got us moved to the better seats. For the remainder of the flight, we were thanking our lucky stars that we weren’t next to the lavatories. At one point the line was at least 10 people long and it looked absolutely claustrophobic back there. Landing in Newark was uneventful, the line through customs moved quickly, and we met one of the friendliest customs agents ever. (Who happened to be named “Kevin” as well, co-incidence??? 🙂 We then went downstairs to wait for our luggage for close to 45 minutes. (Apparently it was sent on the slow boat!) We dropped the non-greasy luggage off at the transfer baggage belt and went through security again. After a slow security line, we got into the terminal proper and ended up having to really move to get to the gate, barely breaking stride to stop at the bathroom while Kevin grabbed food from McDonald’s. As we got to the gate, we were the last people on the plane and they closed the door right behind us! The flight back to Providence was quick, and the pilot had fun announcing that our flight attendant had been one of “Barker’s Beauties” on The Price Is Right. The airport was pretty quiet at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, but the shock of walking out of the airport into the cold made us wonder whether we really were in Antigua just 7 hours ago.

Note: For my full set of photos from Antigua, please check visit my Picasa Web Album of Antigua.